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US Air Raid Targeting Al-Qaeda in Yemen Kills 16 Civilians

A US Apache helicopter. Apaches reportedly took part in Sunday’s deadly raid against al-Qaeda militants in the Yakla region of Al-Bayda province, Yemen. (pan.li53/Flickr Creative Commons)

The first major military action of Donald Trump’s presidency in Yemen killed dozens of al-Qaeda militants and 16 civilians on Sunday.

Agence France-Presse reports elite US forces launched a Sunday dawn raid against suspected al-Qaeda fighters in the Yakla region of al-Bayda province. Local officials said 41 militants and 16 civilians — eight women and eight children — were killed as helicopters fired missiles and machine guns into local homes. Unmanned aerial drones were also possibly involved in the raid. Al Jazeera reports at least six homes were destroyed and a number of civilians remain trapped under the rubble. A provincial official said US helicopters also attacked a school, a mosque and a medical facility being used by al-Qaeda fighters.

“The operation began at dawn when a drone bombed the home of [al-Qaeda leader] Abdulraouf al-Dhahab, and then helicopters flew up and unloaded paratroopers at his house and killed everyone inside,” one resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Middle East Eye. “Next, the gunmen opened fire at the US soldiers who left the area, and the helicopters bombed the gunmen and a number of homes and led to a large number of casualties.”

One of the children killed in the raid was the eight-year-old daughter of US-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011. His son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki — an innocent American 16-year-old from Denver, Colorado, was killed in another drone strike two weeks later while he dined at an outdoor restaurant in his ancestral homeland.

“She was hit with a bullet in her neck and suffered for two hours”, the slain eight-year-old’s grandfather told Middle East Eye. “Why kill children? This is the new administration, it’s very sad, a big crime.”

According to data from the London-based Bureau for Investigative Journalism, one of the world’s foremost authorities on civilian casualties caused by US drone strikes, the death toll from the first air strike of Trump’s tenure killed as many children as the more than 150 previous strikes, dating back to 2002, combined.

The US military said 14 militants and one US service member — a Navy SEAL — were killed in Sunday’s action. “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,” President Donald Trump said in response to the first troop death of his presidency. Trump did not mention the first 16 civilians killed under his command.

Under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, the US dramatically increased drone strikes against suspected members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered by Washington to be the most dangerous al-Qaeda branch. The US has also backed a brutal Saudi-led military intervention in support of the internationally-recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi against Houthi rebels who seized control of the north of the country after insurgents forced longtime US-backed dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh from power in 2011. Saudi air strikes have killed thousands of Yemeni civilians, breeding resentment and hostility in one of the world’s poorest countries toward not only the Saudi dictatorship but also its backers in Washington and London.

At the same time the United States is bombing Yemen and supporting Saudi bombing that has caused hundreds of thousands of Yemenis to flee for their lives, the Trump administration has placed Yemen on a list of seven mostly Muslim countries whose citizens are now temporarily banned from seeking refuge in or even traveling to the United States. No Yemeni citizen, or any citizen from any of the seven banned nations — all of which have been bombed by the United States — has ever carried out a fatal terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Neighboring Saudi Arabia, by contrast, is home to 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, but is not included on Trump’s banned list.

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