Several U.S. troops were injured on Tuesday after coming under fire during a raid against an al-Qaida target in Marib Governorate in Yemen.
The Pentagon would not provide specifics on the number of troops wounded or the types of injuries incurred citing privacy concerns and not wanting to immediately broadcast a battle damage assessment to enemy forces in the region. The wounds sustained were "ambulatory," meaning U.S. forces conducting the mission were able to take themselves off the battlefield, according to Pentagon spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis.
U.S. forces conducted a nighttime raid against a series of buildings associated with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) on May 23. The buildings were "assessed to be an AQAP safe haven linked to senior AQAP financial, media, and security leaders," according to Maj. Josh Jaques, a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command. After insertion, U.S. forces came under fire from AQAP militants. U.S. troops on the ground responded with small arms fire and airstrikes from an AC-130 gunship. The firefight resulted in at least seven AQAP killed.
The raid against the AQAP safehouse was the third such raid since a Jan. 28 operation that resulted in the death of Navy Seal William "Ryan" Owens. During that raid, a number of civilians were also killed and a V-22 Osprey was destroyed.
There are currently no reports or indications of civilian casualties from Tuesday's raid, according to Davis. U.S. forces spent considerable time planning for the operation, including extensive ISR drone surveillance of the target compounds, he said.
The May 23 operation was the first operation in Marib and the deepest U.S. forces have gone inside Yemen, Davis said.
The U.S. has slowly stepped up its involvement in Yemen since President Donald Trump took office. "Since Feb. 28, U.S. forces have conducted more than 80 strikes against AQAP militants, infrastructure, fighting positions and equipment," Jaques told Military Times.
However, AQAP has not been the only target of U.S. efforts in the region. The U.S. has also provided material and logistics support to partner forces in the region, including Saudi Arabia, which has been assisting the internationally recognized government under President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to restore order and stability throughout the countryside
Hadi’s government has been marred in a civil war with rebel factions predominantly led by Iranian-backed Shia Houthi rebels after the militant group became disillusioned over the power handover between Hadi and former authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011. The ensuing civil war has killed thousands and has displaced nearly 200,000people, creating a power vacuum exploited by terror groups like AQAP.
American interests in the region are two-fold: to restore order to the country and combat terrorists such as AQAP, and to check Iranian influence in the region, according to Jim Phillips, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.
"Washington does not want to see an expanding AQAP or Islamic State in Yemen, a growing threat to shipping in the Bab al Mandab strait or Red Sea, or Iranian ballistic missile bases springing up inside of Yemen," Phillips told Military Times.
Iranian back Houthi rebels have harassed U.S. and Saudi Naval vessels with Iranian supplied missiles. In October, U.S. forces launched a retaliatory strike againstradar installations along the Yemeni coast occupied by Houthi rebels. The Navy barrage was in response to Houthi attacks against U.S. destroyers patrolling the region.
But the Houthi partnership with Iran is complicated and is exacerbated by the Saudi proxy war in the country. "The Houthis have become increasingly close to Iran, which has escalated its supply of arms. Their motivation to work closely with Iran is based more on the ongoing fighting against the Saudi-led coalition than in U.S. policy," said Phillips.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates echoed those sentiments at an event hosted by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, where he called the conflict in Yemen "complicated" and a "proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran."
Regarding the controversial U.S. support for Saudi efforts to combat the Houthi insurgency, which has killed over 7,400 civilians, many resulting from Saudi airstrikes, Gates said "it is important we demonstrate to our allies that we will support them."
According to U.S. defense officials, AQAP is one of the most formidable terrorist groups in the region because of its operational capabilities and its extensive ties that reach from Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia to other al-Qaida affiliates in North Africa. The terror network "remains intent on attacking Americans," Davis said.
The group was responsible for the 2008 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa and attempted to down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in 2009, according to CENTCOM official. "Information derived from this raid will help us disrupt or prevent AQAP’s plotting of terror attacks, Jaques said. "We’ll continue to conduct operations — including strikes — against known terrorists."