WASHINGTON – The U.S. military said Thursday it is investigating last weekend's raid by U.S. special operations forces in Yemen and that innocent civilians, including children, were apparently killed.
U.S. Central Command said civilians may have been hit by gunfire from aircraft called in to assist U.S. troops, who engaged in a ferocious firefight with militants from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the group's Yemen affiliate.
The military said the civilians may not have been visible to the U.S. forces because they were mixed in with combatants who were firing at U.S. troops "from all sides to include houses and other buildings."
Nasser al-Awlaki told The Associated Press that among the children killed was his 8-year-old granddaughter Anwaar, an American citizen. Her father was Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Yemeni-American cleric killed in a U.S. airstrike in Yemen in 2011.
The grandfather said Anwaar was visiting her mother when the raid took place, and was shot in the neck and bled to death.
The Pentagon hasn't confirmed the young al-Awlaki was killed in Sunday's raid.
"Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has a horrifying history of hiding women and children within militant operating areas and terrorist camps, and continuously shows a callous disregard for innocent lives," said Col. John J. Thomas, U.S. Central Command spokesman.
Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens was killed in the assault, and three other U.S. service members were wounded.
According to Central Command, the firefight included small arms fire, hand grenades and close air support fire.
U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said earlier this week that an unspecified number of women were part of the group of combatants battling the U.S. forces, and some were among the 14 killed in the firefight.
Planning for the clandestine counterterrorism raid began before President Barack Obama left office on Jan. 20, but Trump authorized the raid, U.S. defense officials have said.
The U.S. has been striking al-Qaida in Yemen from the air for more than 15 years, mostly using drones. Sunday's surprise pre-dawn raid could signal a new escalation against extremist groups in the Arab world's poorest but strategically located country.