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Trump called Yemen raid successful. Family of child victim think otherwise

'Tears come down whenever I remember what happened', uncle of Nora al-Awlaki tells MEE
A photo of Nora al-Awlaki posted by her uncle, Ammar Al-Aulaqi, on social media after her death (Facebook)

A man who lost several members of his family, including his eight-year-old niece, in a US commando raid in Yemen has rejected US President Donald Trump's claim that the mission was "highly successful".

Asked by Middle East Eye what he thought of Trump's comments to Congress in a speech on Monday, Ammar al-Aulaqi said he was still unable to think about the January raid without crying.

At least 23 civilians were killed in the raid in Yakla in al-Bayda province on 29 January, including Nora al-Awlaki, the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born al-Qaeda ideologue killed in a drone strike in 2011, according to local sources.

One US Navy special forces soldier also died in the botched mission, which the US military said had targeted an al-Qaeda compound, prompting criticism of Trump for authorising the raid just days after taking office and calls for an investigation into the events.

But in a speech to Congress on Monday, Trump said the raid had generated intelligence that would lead to "many more victories".

Carryn Owens, the widow of a US soldier killed in Yemen, pictured during a speech by US President Donald Trump (Reuters)
"I just spoke to General [James] Mattis [the US defence secretary], who reconfirmed that, and I quote, "Ryan [Owens, the US soldier killed in the raid] was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies."

Trump also said that Owens, whose widow was in the audience, had "died as he lived: a warrior and a hero - battling against terrorism and securing our nation".

But when Trump's remarks were put to Aulaqi, he said he had nothing more to say.

"Tears come down as soon as I remember what happened," he told MEE.

In an account of the raid posted on Facebook, Aulaqi, Anwar al-Awlaki's brother, had described how Nora had been shot several times, including through the neck, and had bled to death for two hours because she had no access to medical care.

According to Al-Aulaqi's account, Nora had sought to reassure other family members even as she lay dying, telling her mother: "Don’t cry mummy, I’ll be okay."

Villagers contacted by MEE in the aftermath of the raid described a "night of evil" in which drones and helicopters swooped in before US soldiers stormed through houses.

The target of the raid is understood to have been Qassim al-Rimi, the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader (AQAP), who subsequently said that at least 14 members of the group had been killed in the battle.

Villagers denied that AQAP members were present in the village, but al-Bayda province is considered to be an AQAP stronghold.

The US has carried out at least 165 drone strikes against suspected AQAP targets in Yemen that have killed more than 800 people and may have been responsible for another 108 suspected drone strikes and another 500 unconfirmed deaths, according to an investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Human rights groups also criticised Trump for claiming that the raid had been successful.

"All the evidence points to a catastrophic blunder. A civilian family was all but wiped out, a mother was killed trying to protect her baby, and children and others are now gravely injured," Jennifer Gibson, a lawyer at human rights organisation Reprieve, told MEE.

"Secret, botched raids on innocent families will do nothing to make America safe. The White House must order an immediate investigation into this disastrous operation, and ensure it is never repeated.”

The US military was slow to acknowledge reports of civilian casualties as a consequence of the raid, only conceding on 2 February, several days later that it was "likely" that some civilians had been killed.

Trump took to Twitter on 9 February to defend the operation.

But he has faced criticism at home, including from the father of Ryan Owens, who described the operation as a “stupid mission” and said that he did not want to meet or speak to Trump.

Raids reportedly ongoing

As controversy over the ground raid rumbled on, there were reports that the US carried out a second ground raid on Thursday morning, in what could one of the first operations since the raid.

US ground troops were accompanied by over 100 supporting troops from the UAE as well as local forces during a raid in the southern province of Abyan, Yemeni journalist Hakim al-Masmari quoted a local official as saying. 

Later on Thursday, a drone reportedly struck a car carrying weapons destined for AQAP in the same province.

The Thursday strikes reportedly hit the small town of al-Wadhia, the birthplace of current president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who is currently running his government from the southern city of Aden, having been pushed out of the capital Sanaa by Houthi rebels in September 2014.

The Pentagon confirmed on Thursday that it had launched 20 separate strikes across three provinces in Yemen - Abyan, Shabwa and Bayda - but did not give a timeframe.

Casualty figures are not known.

AQAP boasts one of the world's most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, and has been a persistent concern to the US government ever since a 2009 attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.