— -- The U.S. military has concluded that this weekend's deadly raid in Yemen "likely killed" civilians, possibly including children.
The casualties appear to have resulted from aerial fire called in to support the Navy SEALs who were taking intense fire from fighters belonging to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
"A team designated by the operational task force commander has concluded regrettably that civilian non-combatants were likely killed in the midst of a firefight during a raid in Yemen Jan. 29. Casualties may include children," reads a statement from the U.S. Central Command (Centcom).
Until today, the Pentagon had only said that 14 AQAP militants had been killed in the raid and that it was assessing whether civilians may have been killed. The raid, carried out by the elite SEAL Team Six, was intended to gather intelligence about the terror group's leadership and plotting of targeting the West.
But reports from Yemen soon alleged that a number of civilians had been killed in the raid, including Nora Al-Awlaki, the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American-born Islamic cleric killed by a drone strike in 2011 for his role in AQAP.
Though the Centcom statement acknowledged that the civilian casualties might include children, it did not specify whether Nora was among them.
"The known possible civilian casualties appear to have been potentially caught up in aerial gunfire that was called in to assist U.S. forces in contact against a determined enemy that included armed women firing from prepared fighting positions, and U.S. special operations members receiving fire from all sides to include houses and other buildings," the statement adds.
Chief Naval Special Warfare Operator William "Ryan" Owens, 36, was killed in the intense firefight that also left three other SEALs wounded. President Donald Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Wednesday afternoon to accompany Owens' family as his remains were returned to the U.S.
Military officials will continue to assess whether there were any additional civilian casualties who may have been caught in the intense and chaotic firefight.
"This complex situation included small arms fire, hand grenades and close air support fire," reads the statement.
"Analysts are carefully assessing whether additional non-combatant civilians that were not visible to the assault force at the time were mixed in with combatants," the statement adds.
Centcom said materials seized in the raid are "yielding valuable intelligence to help partner nations deter and prevent future terror attacks in Yemen and across the world."
“Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has a horrifying history of hiding women and children within militant operating areas and terrorist camps, and continuously shows a callous disregard for innocent lives,” said Col. John J. Thomas, U.S. Central Command spokesman. “That’s what makes cases like these so especially tragic.”