Decorated U.S. Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens was tragically killed this weekend in Yemen. The first publicly acknowledged U.S. raid under President Donald Trump did not go as smoothly as planned, though the Pentagon labelled the mission — which reportedly killed 14 militants — a success. According to Reuters, the U.S. special ops mission targeted Abdulrauf al Dhabab, a senior al Qaeda leader.
The mission hit a snag when the SEAL team’s V-22 Osprey endured a “hard landing,” injuring at least three service members. Additionally, the SEAL Team 6 crew unexpectedly faced resistance from multiple female jihadis, which vastly complicated the mission and may have resulted in the deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire. However, according to U.S. Central Command, the SEALs secured “information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots.”
So, was it all worth it? And what brought the nation’s most decorated warriors into Yemen in the first place?
The continuing destabilization of the Middle East nation has created a void filled by the world’s most dangerous terrorists, who use the state to plan missions both domestically and abroad.
There is an ongoing civil war in Yemen that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers, militants, and civilians. Much of the country has become a battleground between a Saudi-led coalition (which includes the United States) and Iran-backed Houthi insurgents. Amidst the chaos, a vacuum has been created that has allowed the local Islamic State and al Qaeda branches to flourish, leaving only the U.S. and its allies to check their vast expansion.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is headquartered in Yemen, is without a doubt the most dangerous al Qaeda affiliate worldwide. The group has managed to control swaths of territory in Yemen and has a global reach that extends to the United States and Europe.
AQAP, which is tasked with coordinating overseas attacks against America and its allies, was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. in 2010. It has on several occasions managed to infiltrate and carry out terror plots in Western countries. The group urges recruits inside America to “strike at home,” as damaging the U.S. is their most important duty.
Many of AQAP’s devotees are inspired by the late al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the deceased imam who left America after 9/11 to became the leader of the al Qaeda Yemen branch. Several U.S.-based terrorists, including the shooters at Ft. Hood and Chattanooga drew motivation from Awlaki.
The 2009 Christmas Day “Underwear Bomber” — a Nigerian native who planned on bringing down a commercial jet — carried out his orders directly from AQAP. Thankfully, he failed to detonate his explosives.
Additionally, the tragic 2015 mass killings at the “Charlie Hebdo” offices in Paris was the work of AQAP jihadis.
ISIS, like AQAP, also controls territory in Yemen, under the name Wilayat Sanaa — or, the Sanaa Province (of the Islamic State). The group, which seeks to impose a worldwide caliphate under its rule, has successfully conducted massive suicide missions, which have killed hundreds and wounded countless more. Islamic State operations in Yemeni provinces are a relatively new phenomenon, but the terror outfit has shown that it can operate and plan major attacks in the country.
U.S. counterterrorism efforts
America’s counterterrorism strategy in Yemen during the Obama administration relied on drone strikes and small, specialized military raids on jihadi compounds inside the country. In 2015, a U.S. drone strike killed AQAP’s No. 2 in charge. As previously mentioned, al-Awlaki was also taken out thanks to a U.S. drone strike.
Whether the strategy has been a success is a matter of debate. Experts have pointed out that targeted killings of AQAP leaders may temporarily weaken the group, but new leaders will emerge as long as the group has a safe haven in Yemen. Therefore, U.S. officials have expanded the mission to, at times, deploy special ops on the ground for aggressive missions on AQAP strongholds.
As details unfold pertaining to the past weekend’s raid in Yemen, what’s clear is that the country has become the perfect environment to plot jihadi terror against the United States. It appears that President Trump has recognized the threat and dedicated his first mission toward helping to eradicate the menace in the Gulf. (For more from the author of “Why the First US Military Raid Under Trump Was in Yemen” please click HERE)