Helicopter-borne commandos launched a raid in southern Yemen at dawn on Sunday that killed at least 57 people, including Al Qaeda suspects and civilians, residents and local officials told AFP.
At least 41 Al Qaeda militants and 16 civilians were killed in the raid, including eight women and eight children, the provincial official, who did not want to be named, and tribal sources, told AFP.
However, in conflicting reports, Reuters said medics at the scene confirmed at least 30 people were killed, including 10 women and three children.
The United States, which had not immediately acknowledged the operation, later said in a statement that the raid by the US military killed 14 Al Qaeda militants. One of its soldiers was also killed while three others were injured in the raid, it added.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our elite service members,” said General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command in Tampa, Florida.
Military officials said the name of the deceased soldier would be withheld until relatives have been notified.
“The sacrifices are very profound in our fight against terrorists who threaten innocent peoples across the globe,” Votel said.
The raid is the first in the country by the American military since Yemen descended into civil war nearly two years ago. It would also be the first such operation during Donald Trump’s presidency.
In a message on its official Telegram account, Al Qaeda mourned al-Dhahab as a “holy warrior” and other slain militants, without specifying how many of its fighters were killed.
The gunbattle in the rural Yakla district of al-Bayda province killed a senior leader in Yemen’s Al Qaeda branch, Abdulraoof al-Dhahab, along with other militants, the local witnesses said.
“The operation began at dawn when a drone bombed the home of Abdulraoof al-Dhahab and then helicopters flew up and unloaded paratroopers at his house and killed everyone inside,” one resident said, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Next, the gunmen opened fire at the US soldiers who left the area, and the helicopters bombed the gunmen and a number of homes and led to a large number of casualties.”
A Yemeni security officer and a local official corroborated that account. Fahd, a local resident who asked that only his first name be used, said several bodies remained under debris and that houses and the local mosque were damaged in the attack.
US special forces attempted to rescue an American and a South African hostage held by Al Qaeda in another part of the country in December 2014. The captives were killed in the subsequent firefight.
The United States conducted dozens of drone strikes in Yemen throughout Barack Obama’s presidency to combat Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, regarded as one of the global militant group’s most dangerous branches.
The local Al Qaeda unit organised the Charlie Hebdo magazine attack in Paris in 2015 and has repeatedly tried to down US airliners.
100 killed in clashes
Fierce battles between government forces and Houthi rebels on the country’s west coast have killed more than 100 fighters in the past 24 hours, officials said on Sunday.
The bodies of at least 90 Huthi rebels were taken to a hospital in the Red Sea city of Hodeida, which is controlled by the insurgents, while 19 dead soldiers were taken to the southern port city of Aden, the medical and military sources said.