US Service Member Killed in SEAL Raid on al-Qaeda in Yemen

Three other service members were injured in the raid against al-Qaeda.

ByJames Gordon Meek, Luis Martinez and Justin Fishel
January 29, 2017, 3:23 PM

— -- One U.S. service member was killed, and three others were injured in Yemen during a raid Saturday by Navy SEALs targeting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's senior leadership, officials said today.

The operation, which officials said was launched by the elite counterterrorism unit SEAL Team Six, was the first carried out with the direct approval of President Donald Trump and resulted in 14 al-Qaeda operatives killed, officials said.

Trump in a statement Sunday afternoon referred only to American "service members" in hailing the operation against "radical Islamic" terrorists, which he said was vital to preventing attacks.

"Americans are saddened this morning with news that a life of a heroic service member has been taken in our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism. The sacrifices made by the men and women of our armed forces, and the families they leave behind, are the backbone of the liberty we hold so dear as Americans, united in our pursuit of a safer nation and a freer world. My deepest thoughts and humblest prayers are with the family of this fallen service member. I also pray for a quick and complete recovery for the brave service members who sustained injuries," Trump said.

AQAP in a statement claimed 30 civilians were killed in the American raid and showed photos of purported victims — including the bloody remains of a girl the terrorist group said was the 8-year-old daughter of firebrand imam Anwar al-Awlaki, AQAP's American former leader in charge of plots against the country of his birth.

It was unclear if al-Awlaki's daughter was killed in the SEAL raid overseen by Joint Special Operations Command, died elsewhere or not at all. She is likely considered a U.S. person but not a U.S. citizen under the law, since the citizenship of her father, who was born in Las Cruces, N.M., was never revoked.

U.S. officials said there are no internal reports of civilian casualties, but one official noted they will keep taking seriously the claims of civilian casualties.

Al-Awlaki was killed by CIA drone-fired missiles in 2011. His U.S.-born and -raised son Abdulrahman, 16, was killed two weeks later in a controversial U.S. drone strike.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, appearing on ABC's "This Week" without commenting on the claim of killing al-Awlaki's daughter or other civilians, said the operation was a blow to AQAP's efforts to attack the United States.

"They got 14 individuals. They killed 14 individuals and captured a whole host of information about future plots that's going to benefit this country and keep us safe," he said.

"We mourn for the loss of life of the service member who so bravely fought for this country and was killed," Spicer said, adding that, "the president was informed throughout the evening of the situation. He extends his condolences. But more importantly, he understands the fight that our servicemen and -women conduct on a daily basis to keep this country safe."

"This is one in a series of aggressive moves against terrorist planners in Yemen and worldwide," the U.S. military's Central Command said in a statement.

A counterterrorism official told ABC News that the Navy's SEAL Team Six, formally known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, engaged in a firefight in a rare ground force raid in the Bayda region of Yemen and that special operations targeting top AQAP leaders, including emir Qasim al-Raymi, are continuing.

The primary mission of the raid was "site exploitation," said a U.S. official who explained that ground forces were used to preserve information that could be used for intelligence purposes.

One operator was killed in action, and three others were injured critically, officials said. The name of the killed service member is being withheld, pending notification of next of kin, CENTCOM said.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our elite service members," the commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, said in a statement. "The sacrifices are very profound in our fight against terrorists who threaten innocent peoples across the globe."

In addition, the U.S. lost a Marine MV-22 Osprey aircraft after it suffered a hard landing that rendered it incapable of taking off again. The aircraft was destroyed by U.S. forces on the spot.

AQAP posted a photo of a young girl on blankets prepared for burial, with a clenched bloody hand, who they claimed was al-Awlaki's 8-year-old daughter killed in the American raid. The group denied losing any armed operatives.

"No al-Qaeda members were killed in the U.S. raid in Yakla’. Only women and children were killed in the raid together with some tribal leaders who have no connections to al-Qaeda," the group said in a message distributed through the encrypted phone app Telegram, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. "Only civilians were killed, mainly children, including the daughter of Shaykh Anwar al-Awlaki. May Allah accept them, and may Allah hasten his revenge."

ABC News' Paul Blake contributed to this report.

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