SANAA, Yemen (AP) – The U.S. military said Sunday that one service member was killed and three others wounded in a raid in Yemen targeting its local al-Qaida branch, marking the first-known combat death of a member of the U.S. military under President Donald Trump’s new administration.
U.S. Central Command said in a statement that a fourth service member was injured in a “hard landing” in a nearby location. The aircraft was unable to fly afterward and was “intentionally destroyed.”
The Central Command statement said 14 militants from al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen, formally known as “al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula,” were killed in the assault and that U.S. service members taking part in the raid captured “information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots.”
Yemeni security and tribal officials said the surprise dawn assault in Yemen’s central Bayda province killed three senior al-Qaida leaders: Abdul-Raouf al-Dhahab, Sultan al-Dhahab, and Seif al-Nims.
The al-Dhahab family is considered an ally of al-Qaida, which is now chiefly concentrated in Bayda province. A third family member, Tarek al-Dhahab, was killed in a U.S. drone strike several years ago. It was not immediately clear whether the family members were actual members of al-Qaida.
The U.S. troops killed or wounded some two dozen men, including some Saudis present at the site, according to the Yemeni officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists.
An official with al-Qaida confirmed the killings, describing the attack as a “massacre” and saying that women and children had been killed as well. The official sent to The Associated Press in Cairo photos purportedly showing the bloodied bodies of several children killed in the raid.
The official said the Apache attack helicopters struck the area from the air before dropping commandos in for the raid, which took place near Yakla village in Radaa district. He too spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Just over a week ago, suspected U.S. drone strikes killed three other alleged al-Qaida operatives in Bayda in what was the first-such killings reported in the country since Trump assumed the U.S. presidency.
The tribal officials said the Americans were looking for al-Qaida leader Qassim al-Rimi, adding that they captured and departed with at least two unidentified individuals.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, long seen by Washington as among the most dangerous branches of the global terror network, has exploited the chaos of Yemen’s civil war, seizing territory in the south and east.
The war began in 2014, when Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies swept down from the north and captured the capital, Sanaa. A Saudi-led military coalition has been helping government forces battle the rebels for nearly two years.
Separately, Yemen’s president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi a day earlier called for the remnants of his parliament, many of whom are in exile in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, to convene in the country’s southern port city of Aden, where he is struggling to establish government control.