Fresh details of the botched Yemen special forces raid against al-Qaeda, authorised by Donald Trump, cast further doubt on the White House’s assertion it was “highly successful”.
Eyewitness accounts from those who survived paint a picture of carnage wrought by US helicopter gunships that fired upon an entire village.
A Navy Seal, nine women and 10 children and a tribal leader allied to the country’s US and Saudi-backed leader were killed during the operation.
The raid was the first military operation authorised by President Trump and his administration’s official line has been that it was “a successful operation by all standards”.
Trump insisted in a statement the operation helped obtain intelligence “that will assist the U.S. in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world”.
But an investigation from Yemen by journalist Iona Craig and published in The Intercept has laid bare the reality of what actually happened through interviews with survivors of the raid in the village of al Ghayil in Yemen’s al Bayda province.
One section reads:
“Nesma al Ameri, an elderly village matriarch who lost four family members in the raid, described how the attack helicopters began firing down on anything that moved. As she recounted the horror of what happened, Sinan tapped her on the arm. “No, no. The bullets were coming from behind,” the 5-year-old insisted, interrupting to demonstrate how he was shot at and his mother gunned down as they ran for their lives. “From here to here,” Sinan said, putting two fingers to the back of his head and drawing an invisible line to illustrate the direction of the bullet exiting her forehead. His mother fell to the ground next to him, still clutching his baby brother in her arms. Sinan kept running.”
In the days after the raid on 29 January, US military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.
In an interview with CNN on Friday, Craig said this indeed appeared to be the case.
She said: “Well certainly from the evidence that I saw all three of those categories were filled. There was poor decision making, bad judgement and incompetence.
“I think to start with even carrying out this raid without fully understanding every single man within hearing shot of a gunshot, within hearing shot of a helicopter... would believe their village was being raided but not by rival tribes but by the Houthi forces they’ve been fighting against since 2014.
“That was a clear sign of bad judgement. Secondly to continue the raids when they knew they were compromised, they knew that people inside the village knew they were coming, possibly Al-Qaeda knew they were coming, but still they decided to carry on.”
“And to call strafing an entire village with helicopter gunship fire ‘incompetence’, is probably something of an understatement.”
On Thursday the top US commander for the Middle East told senators he had completed an exhaustive review of the Yemen raid and concluded there were no lapses in judgment or decision-making surrounding the operation.
Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Central Command, said he sees no need for additional investigations into the January mission that triggered debate in Washington over what went wrong and whether important intelligence was actually gathered.
Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee that a separate investigation into potential civilian casualties found that between four and 12 innocent people were killed.
His son, chief special warfare officer William “Ryan” Owens, was a 36-year-old married father of three.
Owens told The Miami Herald: “I want an investigation. The government owes my son an investigation.”
He added that he refused to meet with the President who travelled with his daughter, Ivana, because the family had requested a private ceremony.