In what an official said was the first military raid carried out under President Donald Trump, two Americans were killed in Yemen on Sunday — one a member of SEAL Team 6 and the other the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico-born al Qaeda leader who himself was killed in a U.S. strike five years ago.
The raid in southern Yemen, conducted by the supersecret Joint Special Operations Command, was intended to capture valuable intelligence, specifically computer equipment, according to a senior U.S. military official. Three al Qaeda leaders were killed, according to U.S. officials.
See more on Donald Trump:
President Trump settles into his new life as president
President Trump settles into his new life as president
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) is greeted by U.S. President Donald Trump prior to holdiing talks at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria (
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump (2nd L) are seen at Trump International Golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., February 11, 2017. Picture taken February 11, 2017. Cabinet Public Relations Office/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
U.S. President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump (R), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe (L) pose for a photograph before attending dinner at Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Akie Abe (R) attend dinner with U.S. President Donald Trump his wife Melania (L) at Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump holds his earpiece as he holds a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (not pictured) at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
U.S. President Donald Trump watches as Vice President Mike Pence (R) swears in Jeff Sessions (L) as U.S. Attorney General while his wife Mary Sessions holds the Bible in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet a marching band as they arrive at Trump International Golf club to watch the Super Bowl LI between New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., February 5, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
US President Donald Trump watches the Super Bowl with First Lady Melania Trump (R) and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (L) at Trump International Golf Club Palm Beach in West Palm Beach, Florida on February 5, 2017. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump salutes before boarding Air Force One from MacDill Air Force Base on February 6, 2017 in Tampa, Florida.
President Donald Trump on Monday paid his first visit to US Central Command, meeting officers who will form the tip of the spear in implementing his new strategy to defeat the Islamic State group. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump attend the 60th Annual Red Cross Gala at Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., February 4, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (L) listens as U.S. President Donald Trump talks to journalists members of the travel pool on board the Air Force One during his trip to Palm Beach, Florida while flying over South Carolina, U.S., February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump hosts a strategy and policy forum with chief executives of major U.S. companies at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence leaves after meeting with Harley Davidson executives at the South Lawn of the White House in Washington U.S., February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump pulls a chair out for Paula White from the New Christian Destiny Center to as they attend a meeting regarding the supreme court nomination at the Roosevelt room of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to announce his nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the empty associate justice seat of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
On Friday, February 3, a Marine salutes U.S. President Donald Trump as he boards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, en route to Andrews Airforce Base where he will depart for Palm Beach, Florida.. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump sits after signing a memorandum about Labor Department's rules on investing in the Oval Office of the White House on February 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 03: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers opening remarks at the beginning of a policy forum with (L-R) daughter Ivanka Trump, Global Infrastructure Partners Chairman Adebayo Ogunlesi, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, Blackstone Group Chairman and CEO Stephen Schwarzman and other business leaders in the State Dining Room at the White House February 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. Leaders from the automotive and manufacturing industries, the financial and retail services and other powerful global businesses were invited to the meeting with Trump, his advisors and family. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to announce his nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the empty associate justice seat of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order cutting regulations, accompanied by small business leaders at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington U.S., January 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31: National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers waits for the arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump for a meeting on cyber security in the Roosevelt Room at the White House January 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. Citing the hack of computers at the Democratic National Committee by Russia, Trump said that the private and public sectors must do more to prevent and protect against cyber attacks. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 1: (AFP OUT) President Donald Trump holds an African American History Month listening session attended by nominee to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson (R), Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison Omarosa Manigault (L) and other officials in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up to reporters as he waits to speak by phone with the Saudi Arabia's King Salman in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump walks from the Oval Office to Marine One upon his departure from the White House in Washington January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
The Marine One helicopter transporting U.S. President Donald Trump is seen as it departs from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., for a trip to Philadelphia, January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump holds an executive order dealing with members of the administration lobbying foreign governments, after signing it in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
British Prime Minister Theresa May looks on as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during their joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Members of a ceremonial guard carry flags prior to the arrival of British Prime Theresa May at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and Vice President Mike Pence return to the White House after a visit to Homeland Security headquarters in Washington, U.S., January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a signed executive order to advance construction of the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House in Washington January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and British Prime Minister Theresa May arrive to speak after their meeting at the presidential complex in Ankara on January 28, 2017.
British Prime Minister Theresa May on January 28 promised steps to ramp up trade between Turkey and Britain ahead of Brexit but also urged Ankara to uphold human rights following a failed coup. On her first visit to Turkey as premier and fresh from meeting new US President Donald Trump at the White House, May held three hours of talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
/ AFP / Adem ALTAN (Photo credit should read ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 27: British Prime Minister Theresa May looks on as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in The Oval Office at The White House on January 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. British Prime Minister Theresa May is on a two-day visit to the United States and will be the first world leader to meet with President Donald Trump. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Members of the Trump administration walk through the colonnade of the White House on January 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
Contrary to earlier reporting, the senior military official said, the raid was Trump's first clandestine strike — not a holdover mission approved by President Barack Obama. The mission involved "boots on the ground" at an al Qaeda camp near al Bayda in south central Yemen, the official said.
"Almost everything went wrong," the official said.
An MV-22 Osprey experienced a hard landing near the site, injuring several SEALs, one severely. The tilt-rotor aircraft had to be destroyed. A SEAL was killed during the firefight on the ground, as were some noncombatants, including females.
Defense Secretary James Mattis had to leave one of Washington's biggest annual social events, the Alfalfa Club Dinner, to deal with the repercussions, according to the official. He did not return.
On Monday, he released a statement identifying the dead SEAL as Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens and said, "Ryan gave his full measure for our nation, and in performing his duty, he upheld the noblest standard of military service."
The senior military official said the 8-year-old girl, Nawar al-Awlaki, also known as Nora, was among the noncombatants killed in the raid, which also resulted in the death of several Yemeni women. U.S. officials said some of the women who were killed, however, were combatants and had opened fire on the SEALs as they approached the al Qaeda camp.
The girl's grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, Yemen's former agriculture minister, told NBC News a different story. He identified his granddaughter as the dead girl from a photo taken at the scene of the raid but based his description on what happened at the camp on conversations with what he characterized as Yemeni sources.
"My granddaughter was staying for a while with her mother, so when the attack came, they were sitting in the house, and a bullet struck her in her neck at 2:30 past midnight. Other children in the same house were killed," al-Awlaki said. He said the girl died two hours after being shot.
"They [the SEALs] entered another house and killed everybody in it, including all the women. They burned the house. There is an assumption there was a woman [in the house] from Saudi Arabia who was with al Qaeda. All we know is that she was a children's teacher."
Al-Awlaki said the girl and her mother had fled the Yemeni capital, Sa'ana, where he lives, to escape the heavy shelling.
The fate of the child's mother, Anwar al-Awlaki's widow, has not yet been confirmed. However, al-Awlaki's brother-in-law was killed in the raid. The death toll varies according to the sourcing, with the Pentagon saying 14 militants died, along with "numerous" civilians. Nasser al-Awlaki said Yemenis were circulating a body count of combatants and civilians as high as 59.
In explaining the attack, the senior U.S. military official told NBC News: "Al Qaeda is probably stronger in Yemen than in any other country. The U.S. has mounted in intense effort for the past three years from ship, air and drone to go after a reconstituting core al Qaeda organization in Yemen."
The raid, said the official, was directed from a U.S. base in Djibouti, across the Gulf of Aden from the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula and the western edge of Yemen. Officially, the United States was searching for "information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots."
Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham University's Center on National Security, said the girl's death will be a boon to al Qaeda propagandists.
"The perception will be that it's not enough to kill al-Awlaki — that the U.S. had to kill the entire family," she said.
Nawar's father, Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a drone on Sept. 30, 2011, not far from Sunday's raid. The U.S. Justice Department had approved killing him in a memorandum that was disclosed in 2014. The memo concluded, "We do not believe that al-Awlaki's U.S. citizenship imposes constitutional limitations that would preclude the contemplated lethal action" by the U.S. military or the CIA.
Al-Awlaki, who was born while his father was a graduate student in the United States, moved to Yemen and became a prodigious propagandist who, the United States said in the memo, had played "operational and leadership roles" with al Qaeda and "continues to plot attacks intended to kill Americans."
U.S. intelligence also believed al-Awlaki was a potential successor to Osama Bin Laden, who had been killed six months earlier.
Nawar al-Awlaki is the second of Anwar al-Awlaki's children to be killed by U.S. forces. Two weeks after Anwar was killed in late 2011, his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was also struck in a drone strike. U.S. officials said the younger al-Awlaki was in the wrong place at the wrong time — that he was with their intended target, an al Qaeda leader.
Intentional or not, Greenberg said, the deaths of three family members will enhance the al Qaeda narrative. She noted that as part of propaganda efforts, terrorist groups have begun to circulate photographs of children reputedly killed by U.S. forces. Photos of Nawar al-Awlaki alive and dead are already circulating widely in Arab media.