Yemen Raid: the Operation and the Aftermath
By Pooja Kanabur
On January 28, 2017 a well-rehearsed mission was supposed to extract computers and other important intelligence from an al-Qaeda camp near a mountain village. However, this soon turned into a massive conflict, resulting in the death of one Navy SEAL, 14 al Qaeda fighters, and 23 non-combatant civilians. But how exactly did this mission come into play, and should it be seen as a success?
The details of how this U.S. Special Operations raid in Yemen was planned are still in dispute. While White House press secretary Sean Spicer has stated that the mission was discussed in the White House under former president Barack Obama, members of the former administration allege that is not true. What is currently known is that in November 2016, U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations across the Middle East, submitted a plan to the Pentagon that discussed the possibility of at least one Special Operations raid against the headquarters of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a group of militants that U.S. officials believe are targeting the West with their attacks. The Obama administration claims that the raid was delayed for “operational reasons” and that former President Obama never signed off this specific operation before leaving office, though Spicer has implied that the approved plan included the raid carried out January 28.
According to a White House official, President Trump first learned about the plan from National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on the morning of January 25, five days after his inauguration. At a dinner in the White House residence that evening, Trump gave his conditional go-ahead to his top military brass on the advice of Flynn, his Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He officially signed off the plan a day later.
The raid was on an al-Qaeda compound in Yemen's Al Bayda province and was considered quite risky. The goal was to collect intelligence needed to aid future strikes against al-Qaeda and prevent terror attacks, although the forces also hoped to target or gain intelligence to help find the leader of AQAP, Qassim al-Rimi. The raid involved elite US Navy SEALs and Special Forces from the UAE, with armed drones flying overhead in support, according to officials from several countries. But as forces approached the compound, they were detected and an intense firefight broke out. During the battle, al-Qaeda fighters took up firing positions on the roof of a nearby building. As the US troops came under fire, they called in an airstrike against the building, which led to the multiple civilian casualties.
This brings into question the success of the operation. President Trump has declared the mission a success, with the Pentagon releasing a statement claiming that U.S. forces had captured "materials and information that is yielding valuable intelligence." However, the raid has been described as a failure by a senior Yemeni military official, among many others, including Senator John McCain. McCain, who chairs the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said in statement that although many objectives of the raid had been met,"[he] would not describe any operation that results in the loss of American life as a success." The raid has also appeared to amuse al-Rimi, the AQAP leader, who recorded an eleven-minute audio message taunting President Trump, saying that "the new fool of the White House received a painful slap across his face."
So what does this mean for Yemen’s future? The Yemeni embassy in Washington has said that it will continue to work with the US in counter-terrorism operations, indicating that the raid, regardless of its perceived success or failure, has not broken US ties with Yemen. Furthermore, the raid has emphasized the fact that AQAP remains a resilient force in Yemen's society, and will continue to be until counter-terror methods are effectively implemented. Because operations against terrorist targets are a big part of bringing stability back to the country, if the Yemeni government hopes to see political and social stability throughout the nation, they must continue to work with the US to permanently undermine AQAP. Fortunately, following the raid both, Yemini and US forces are more determined than ever to bring peace to Yemen and will continue to work together with a renowned sense of purpose until this goal has been met.