American soldier dies during al Qaeda raid in Yemen

Posted at 3:50 PM, Jan 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-29 15:55:33-05

ARABIAN PENINSULA, Yemen (CNN) — A U.S. service member died of wounds suffered during a raid in Yemen against al Qaeda — the first American combat death under President Donald Trump, U.S. Central Command said Sunday.

Three other soldiers also were wounded.

“In a successful raid against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) headquarters, brave U.S. forces were instrumental in killing an estimated 14 AQAP members and capturing important intelligence that will assist the U.S. in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world,” Trump said in a statement.

“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,” he added. “My deepest thoughts and humblest prayers are with the family of this fallen service member. I also pray for a quick and complete recovery for the brave service members who sustained injuries.”

A U.S. military official said the raid was not directed against specific individuals, but aimed at “site exploitation,” a military term to describe intelligence-gathering actions.

Sources in Yemen told CNN that three senior al Qaeda leaders were among those killed. That was later confirmed by a US official.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our elite servicemembers,” Commander of US Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel said. “The sacrifices are very profound in our fight against terrorists who threaten innocent peoples across the globe.”

Central Command said an aircraft assisting in the operation experienced a hard landing, resulting in an additional US injury. That aircraft, which a US defense official said was a V-22 Osprey, was unable to fly after the landing and was then intentionally destroyed in place.

The US operation resulted in an estimated total of 14 members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) being killed and the capture of information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots.

A U.S. defense official said the operation was authorized by Trump. The military said there were no civilian casualties as a result of the raid.

American military raids in Yemen are rare. The U.S. conducted several drone strikes on AQAP targets there last week.

Yemeni officials told CNN that the raid took place in the Gaifa region in Yemen’s northern Baitha province.

U.S. military officials believe AQAP is exploiting the ongoing civil war in Yemen to solidify its presence there.

Yemen is currently beset by a conflict between Houthi rebels, a minority Shia group from the north of the country, and the internationally recognized government led by President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Saudi Arabia is leading a military intervention against the Houthis in support of the government.

CNN’s Hakim Al-Masmari and Tim Lister contributed to this report.