A U.S. special operations commando was killed and another four were injured during a U.S.-led counterterrorism operation targeting key members of al Qaeda’s Yemeni cell. It was the first reported U.S. military fatality since President Trump took office just over a week ago.
The casualties occurred during a U.S. raid in Yemen, designed to kill or capture members of the al Qaeda cell known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP, as it is known, found a refuge in a country torn by civil war.
A U.S. Central Command statement Sunday said that one American was killed and three others were injured in the operation, which resulted in 14 AQAP operatives dead, command officials said. A fourth U.S. service member was injured when one of the aircraft supporting the mission crashed near the raid site.
“That aircraft was unable to fly after the landing, [and] the aircraft was then intentionally destroyed in place,” according to the statement.
Yemen is one of the countries facing a temporary ban on visas for U.S. travel under Mr. Trump’s refugee and immigration executive order. In a statement Sunday, Mr. Trump honored the fallen serviceman while using a term that President Obama long avoided.
“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,” Mr. Trump said in his statement.
Command officials did not release the names of the injured and killed U.S. service members, but several news outlets reported Sunday evening that the commando who died was a member of Navy SEAL Team 6 based out of Virginia Beach.
Yemeni security and tribal officials told The Associated Press that the raid in Yemen’s central Bayda province killed three senior al Qaeda leaders: Abdul-Raouf al-Dhahab, Sultan al-Dhahab and Seif al-Nims. The killed and wounded included some Saudis at the site, Yemeni officials told reporters.
An al Qaeda official and the terrorist group’s online news service said the raid left about 30 people dead, the AP reported. The dead included the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Yemeni-American cleric who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Yemen in 2011, according to the girl’s grandfather.
Mr. Trump was repeatedly updated on the progress of the operation as it was underway, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Sunday.
“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,” Mr. Spicer said during an interview with ABC’s “This Week.”
During the interview, Mr. Spicer argued that the Yemeni incident was one reason Mr. Trump’s travel ban from a string of Muslim-majority nations was justified in keeping the American homeland safe.
“That’s why this order is so important,” Mr. Spicer said, referring to the Yemen operation.
Instituted by executive order on Saturday, the temporary ban prevents citizens of Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Libya from emigrating to the United States. People from those nations holding valid U.S. visas or green cards are also being denied entry.
“If [U.S. forces] are going to go out there and put their lives on the line every day to fight ISIS, to fight other people who are seeking to do us harm … we do our part to make sure that we’re not having an open door to allow [those] people to march right into our country,” Mr. Spicer said.
The AP, citing an unidentified Pentagon official, said Mr. Obama was briefed on the Yemen mission before he left office on Jan. 20, but for operational reasons it was not ready to be executed before he departed.