Washington (AFP) – Up to a dozen civilians died during a controversial January raid against Al Qaeda in Yemen, but an investigation did not uncover “bad judgment” during the operation, the head of US forces in the Middle East said.
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Joe Votel said “somewhere between four and 12 casualties” resulted from the US raid, which was authorized by US President Donald Trump a few days after his inauguration.
“We have made a determination based on our best information available that we did cause casualties, somewhere between four and 12 casualties,” which US forces “accept responsibility for,” he said.
The investigation carried out after the raid did not establish “incompetence,” “poor decision making,” or “bad judgment,” he told the Senate hearing.
The January 29 raid — the first authorized by Trump — saw US special operations forces enter the Yakla region of Baida province and target a compound occupied by Al-Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP) operatives.
The mission was beset with problems and resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL as well as several non-combatants, including women and children.
The US also lost a $75 million MV-22 Osprey aircraft.
The White House rejected criticism of the operation, saying it would be an insult to the SEAL who was killed, William “Ryan” Owens.
For several months the US has intensified airstrikes against AQAP, operations that appear to have increased since Trump came to power.
At least 22 alleged AQAP fighters have been killed in these raids since March 2.
Yemen’s more than two years of civil war between government forces and Shiite rebels who control the capital have created a power vacuum, which AQAP has exploited to consolidate its presence in the south and east.
The International Crisis Group think-tank has warned that operations like the Baida raid risk fanning hostility towards the United States among civilians, providing fertile ground for recruitment by Al-Qaeda.