The US military said that it believes two important al Qaeda operatives were killed and significant intelligence was seized during the controversial raid in central Yemen on Jan. 29 that killed 14 jihadists, more than 10 civilians, and one US Navy Seal. FDD’s Long War Journal has previously identified Abdulrauf al Dhahab, one of the senior jihadist operatives killed in the raid, as a member of a family with strong ties to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
US Central Command, or CENTCOM, said that the raid, which was carried out by US Navy SEAL and other special operations forces, targeted a “staging area, propaganda center, and logistics hub for AQAP’s terrorist network.” The raid took place in the province of Al Baydah, where US forces have targeted AQAP five times during the month of January.
“Several of the previously announced 14 enemies killed were terrorist network leaders and facilitators,” CENTCOM stated. “Officials now believe that Sultan al Dhahab and Abd-al-Ra’uf [Abdulrauf] al Dhahab, two longstanding AQAP operational planners and weapons experts, were among the enemy killed at the scene.”
FDD’s Long War Journal reported the day the raid took place that Abdulrauf was killed, and he and three of his brothers, all who are now dead, played key leadership roles in AQAP. The US killed two of Abdulrauf’s brothers, Kaid and Nabil, both who served as AQAP’s emir for Al Baydah province, in drone strikes. Another brother, Tariq, was killed by tribesmen after taking control of a town, raising al Qaeda’s flag, and swearing allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s emir. The brothers were also the brother-in-law of Anwar al Awlaki, the radical US cleric who inspired numerous attacks against the West and who also served as AQAP’s external operations planner before the US killed him in 2011. [See Senior AQAP leader killed in US raid in central Yemen.]
CENTCOM upholds that “the raid was an aggressive move to bring us closer to understanding, tracking, and eradicating AQAP,” and vital intelligence was seized during the operations.
The US military has come under attack from some circles as civilians, including the eight year old daughter of Anwar al Awlaki, lost their lives during the raid. Press reports indicate that between 10 and 13 civlians may have been killed.
CENTCOM has maintained that civilians were killed after a heavy firefight ensued during the raid on the compound. In addition to the SEAL who was killed, four more members of the assault team were wounded and an Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft was destroyed.
The civilians who may have been killed “appear to have been potentially caught up in aerial gunfire that was called in to assist US forces in contact,” CENTCOM said on Feb. 1.
The SEALs came “in contact against a determined enemy that included armed women firing from prepared fighting positions” and the team took “fire from all sides to include houses and other buildings.”
“This complex situation included small arms fire, hand grenades and close air support fire,” CENTCOM continued.
The US has stepped up its targeting of AQAP in Al Baydah province, which has become a hub for AQAP. All five American strikes that have been reported against AQAP in Yemen this year have taken place in the province. Seven of the last nine strikes reported since the end of Nov. 2016 have occurred in Al Baydah. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2017.]
The US military has justified strikes and raids against AQAP by stating that the group remains a significant threat to America and its allies and continues to establish safe havens in Yemen. AQAP has plotted multiple attacks against the US, including sophisticated attempts to blow up airliners using devices made by Ibrahim al Asiri, the group’s master bomb maker.