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One U.S. commando dead, four wounded in raid on Al Qaeda in Yemen

President Trump speaks at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images)
President Trump speaks at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images)

A U.S. special operations commando was killed and three others injured in a firefight during a predawn raid on Al Qaeda fighters in central Yemen, according to the U.S. military.

The raid marked the first known counterterrorism operation and first confirmed combat fatality under President Trump.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our elite service members,” Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of the U.S. Central Command, said in a statement. “The sacrifices are very profound in our fight against terrorists who threaten innocent peoples across the globe.”

As the U.S. forces began their assault on the Al Qaeda compound in Shabwa province, they engaged in an intense firefight left at least 14 militants dead, said a U.S. official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the secret mission. One commando was killed and three others wounded during the battle, which lasted about an hour.

During the operation, U.S. troops grabbed a cache of the militants' laptops, cellphones and other materials, which was what U.S. commanders were seeking in the rare on-the-ground siege against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, known as AQAP. The U.S. military typically relies on drone strikes against the group.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, said in a statement the capture of information “will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots.”

During the raid, a V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft that was assisting in the operation crash-landed at a nearby location, resulting in an additional service member injury, a U.S. official said.

The aircraft, which was sent to evacuate the wounded, was unable to fly after the landing. U.S. warplanes later destroyed it.

Local reports said more than a dozen civilians were killed in the operation. Graphic photos of the dead, allegedly victims from the raid, were circulating social media. Among those reportedly killed was the 8-year old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Al Qaeda leader who was based in Yemen and killed in a 2011 drone strike, according the SITE Intelligence Group.

U.S. military officials said they believe no civilians were killed, although the results of the mission were still being examined.

The number of Al Qaeda fighters killed and U.S. service members could rise when more information becomes available, U.S. military officials acknowledged.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has flourished in Yemen since 2014 amid the ongoing chaos of a multi-sided civil war, seizing cities and towns, looting banks, and raising millions of dollars by extorting companies, imposing taxes and export duties, and smuggling.

U.S. intelligence agencies consider AQAP one of Al Qaeda's most dangerous offshoots because of its repeated attempts to attack Western targets.

The group attempted to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner over Detroit in 2009, tried to take down two cargo planes headed to Chicago in 2010, and claimed responsibility for the mass shooting that killed 12 people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris in 2015.

The raid Sunday is just the latest in the U.S. military’s targeted couterterrorism against the group. U.S. drones launched three airstrikes on each day from Jan.20 to 22, all in Bayda province, that killed five militants, U.S. officials said.

Two earlier strikes, on Dec. 29 and Jan. 8, killed three other operatives.

6:50 a.m.: This article was updated with more background.

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