The first military raid ordered by President Donald Trump led to a massacre of civilians in Yemen, killing 8-year-old US citizen Nawar al-Awlaki, the third member of her family executed by their own government.
By Ben Norton / AlterNet’s Grayzone Project
The first military raid carried out under the administration of President Donald Trump was a disaster, U.S. officials acknowledge. According to a Yemeni politician, it was a massacre of women and children.
On Sunday, January 29, Secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) forces carried out a raid in southern Yemen — Trump’s first clandestine operation. An unnamed senior military official told NBC News, “Almost everything went wrong.” Officials acknowledged that several civilians were killed, along with members of al-Qaeda.
Among the victims was an 8-year-old girl named Nawar al-Awlaki, the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen and extremist propagandist with links to al-Qaeda who was assassinated in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. President Obama personally authorized the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, without trial. Two weeks after his death, another U.S. drone strike killed Anwar’s son, 16-year-old U.S. citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. Unlike his father, Abdulrahman did not have any links to al-Qaeda.
Nawar, the latest civilian victim of U.S. violence in the Middle East, was Abdulrahman’s sister. She is at least the third member of the al-Awlaki family to be killed by the U.S.
Nawar was not the only innocent victim of President Trump’s first raid (which, despite earlier media reports to the contrary, was approved by Trump, not Obama). According to her grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, a politician who previously served as Yemen’s agriculture minister, U.S. SEALs killed even more civilians. Nasser spoke with Yemeni sources to get to the bottom of what happened during the raid. He told NBC News that Nawar was sitting in a house with her mother when she was suddenly shot in the neck. She died after suffering for two hours.
“Other children in the same house were killed,” Nasser said.
After the raid on this house, the SEALs “entered another house and killed everybody in it, including all the women,” Nasser continued. Then, “They burned the house.”
The U.S. government disputes this account. While conceding that some civilians were killed, U.S. officials claimed some of the women were actually militants who fired at the SEALs.
The exact circumstances around the killing vary according to the source, as does the death toll. The Pentagon says 14 combatants were killed, along with “numerous” civilians. Yemeni officials estimate as many as 59 militants and civilians were killed, Nasser al-Awlaki said.
There is a precedent for U.S. officials lying about secretive raids carried out by Special Operations forces. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh wrote an expose claiming the Obama administration lied about the circumstances surrounding the killing of al-Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden by SEALs (although multiple accounts of the incident contradicted each other in the first place).
Moreover, investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill has probed how U.S. forces tried to cover up a raid in Afghanistan in which they killed several women and children. Afghan investigators and witnesses said, after the 2010 attack, that U.S. forces dug the bullets out of the body of at least one pregnant Afghan woman they had shot.
Anwar al-Awlaki was an influential extremist Islamist with connections to al-Qaeda, for which he was accused of recruiting. Anwar reportedly consulted with and influenced the militants involved in several terror attacks, including three of the 9/11 hijackers; the Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Hasan; and the so-called underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. His propaganda was also credited with radicalizing the Tsarnaev brothers, who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing.
It is unclear whether the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki’s daughter was intentional or accidental. President Trump campaigned on a pledge to go after not only extremist Islamist militants but also members of their families.
The intentional killing of civilian family members of combatants is a war crime under international law.
Reporting on the raid has been sloppy. It took two days for most major media outlets to acknowledge that U.S. forces had killed the 8-year-old girl, although Arabic-language media sources reported the incident hours after it took place. American reporters for the most part uncritically echoed what anonymous U.S. government officials had told them.
Many of the stories immediately published after the raid on January 29 reflected positively on an operation that allegedly led to the deaths al-Qaeda leaders. Headlines emphasized that one U.S. commando lost his life but made no mention of the civilian casualties.
Buried in a little-noticed earlier report by Reuters, Nasser spoke of Nawar’s death. He lamented, “Why kill children? This is the new [U.S.] administration — it’s very sad, a big crime.”
Al-Qaeda is already using the latest attack in Yemen for propaganda purposes. In a statement quoted by NBC News, operatives in the Arabian Peninsula condemned the SEALs for shooting women and children “in cold blood,” and accused them of having “no human values.” The extremist group has been expanding rapidly in Yemen, where the U.S. has carried out a covert drone war since 2002.
JSOC, which carried out the disastrous raid, is notorious for overseeing, along with the CIA, the covert drone assassination program. In Yemen, hundreds of people have been killed by U.S. drones, including civilians at weddings and funerals. A United Nations report found that from mid-2014 to mid-2015, more civilians were killed in U.S. drone strikes than al-Qaeda militants.