Sunday, January 29, 2017

Major US raid in Yemen kills at least 57 people, including multiple al-Qaeda leaders. One US service member dead

Apache helicopters like the ones used in the raid in Yemen. AFP.

A major US raid targeting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has killed 57 people including 3 high ranking members of the terror groups. AFP. Local sources claim that a dawn raid of Apache helicopters hit a school, mosque and medical facility used by AQAP and that 16 civilians, women and children, were killed in the raid. Unverified reports say that US commandos were deployed as well. The three leaders were brothers Abdulraouf and Sultan al-Zahab along with Saif Alawai al-Jawfi. All had strong links to al-Qaeda. The attack in Yemen is notable as it is believed to be the first one ordered by President Donald Trump. AQAP is al-Qaeda's most dangerous surviving group and have taken advantage of the Saudi-Iranian proxy war to gain a substantial foothold in Yemen and have used it as a base to launch attacks at westerners, including the Charlie Hebdo attacks. 

Breaking news as I wrote this: Fox News and other outlets are confirming that one US service member was killed and three more were injured during this raid. An aircraft used in the raid was destroyed by US forces in the operation after it became inoperable due to a hard landing that injured another service member. 

My Comment:
The more things change the more things stay the same. This raid would not have been out of place in the Obama administration. Despite his reputation, Obama sure loved his commando raids and air strikes. It seems that our current president has taken a page out of the Obama playbook and hit these AQAP areas hard. 

Not that there is anything wrong with that. To use Trump's lexicon, AQAP are "bad hombres". They are the most dangerous of the remaining al-Qaeda franchises and the only one left that really poses much of an international terrorist threat. Core al-Qaeda has lost a lot of it's influence, power, prestige and money due to the rise of ISIS and the heavy attacks against them by US forces. AQAP is pretty much their last major chapter as even the al-Nusra Front has abandoned al-Qaeda and struck out on it's own. 

Despite all that, I don't want to give you the impression that AQAP is the JV team of international terrorism. The Charlie Hebdo attack was one of the most effective terror attacks in the world. Not only did they accomplish their objective it made people too afraid to post images of Mohamed, or at the very least more reluctant. 

Not all of us are afraid to do so. 

There is no doubt in my mind that these AQAP leaders were planning additional attacks. Perhaps not these individuals themselves, but the organization as a whole wants to launch more attacks against western targets. Unlike ISIS, AQAP doesn't just instruct it's followers to hit random targets. Instead they go for more high profile targets in operations that more resemble hits then traditional terror attacks. They even have some consideration for civilian casualties as long as they aren't the direct targets of the attack. If ISIS is the stick up gang robbing credit unions and stealing wallets, AQAP is the group trying to steal from a casino. 

That has largely been their downfall. AQAP and al-Qaeda as a whole have a preference for large disruptive attacks and shun the smaller ones that ISIS has adapted. The problem with that is that these larger operations are easier to disrupt and often fail miserably, while the smaller scale ISIS stuff involving one guy with a knife, gun or truck, works out more often. 

All that being said, this was Donald Trump's first action in Yemen  and the first US death under his watch. I suppose that is noteworthy and historic even as our role in Yemen is unclear. I don't really see Trump changing much in the Yemen theater of war. We will still be a bit player between the main conflict between the Saudi backed Yemeni government and the Iranian backed Houthi militias. Our main concern is AQAP and ISIS and making sure that they don't gain power in the area. The rest of the war, as horrible as it is, is a sideshow for us. 

I do have to say that anyone worried that Trump was going to chicken out when it comes to ordering risky missions can breath a little easier. I don't know who those people were since I think Trump has more of a reckless reputation, but either way, he took a chance here and it paid off. Sending in Apache helicopters instead of drones is a risky move. I am assuming that it is very possible for AQAP to have MANPADS, as many of the other factions in Yemen do, so it's not like there wasn't a risk of this raid going south on Trump. And the fact that one US service member died in this raid means that it kind of did. Trump knew that was a risk but ordered the mission anyways. That shows that he at least understands that is part of his role as president. 

I do have to say something about civilian casualties. It is, of course, a tragedy when civilians die and nobody wants to see it happen. I will say that they probably shouldn't have been hanging out with terrorists, but given the treatment of women and children in the region, they likely had little choice. Of course since the source of the civilian casualties is local, we should always know that there is a chance that the information is false. 

Either way though, civilians die in war. Obama ordered raids on a large scale and many civilians died under his orders as well. Back then the anti-war groups gave him a pass but I wonder if that will be the case for Trump. I am guessing that the media will attack him, because that is what the media will do. If they do attack him though, it will be interesting if it is because of the one US service member killed in the attack or the civilian casualties. 

It's very unclear about the circumstances of the death of the US service member. I have no information about his branch or rank and I don't even know if I should be calling him a "he" though that is a safe guess. If I get more information this morning I will update this post, otherwise I will may just move on to other things. 

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