Bayda, Yemen – On January 29th the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed reports that a Joint Special Operations mission was conducted in what is suspected of being a “capture operation of known high value targets (HVTs)” on a high level meeting of regional and senior level commanders of the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). After meeting heavy resistance on the ground, the raid resulted in one member of the U.S. Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six (DEVGRU) being killed in action with two others wounded. In CENTCOM’s press briefing General Votel, CENTCOM’s commander, expressed his condolences in regards to the loss of a DEVGRU operator stating that: “We [CENTCOM] are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our elite servicemembers,” — “The sacrifices are very profound in our fight against terrorists who threaten innocent peoples across the globe.” Yet, provided little else as to whom the high value players were and what went on during the actual raid itself. SOFREP will attempt to put some of those pieces of the puzzle together.
The High Value Targets
From whats being circulated now we know of two HVTs that were on target. These are Abdul Raouf al-Dhahab and Seif al-Nims; two regional commanders of the Yemen-based terror group, AQAP. Al-Dhahab, AQAP’s Central Yemen commander comes from a family of jihadists that fight along all fronts of the Yemen Civil War and was integral in al-Qaeda’s push to unite some portions of the Hadi and Houthi tribal rebel groups currently fighting in Yemen. Al-Nims is another AQAP regional commander with his subordinate units heavily involved with direct operations against Yemeni and Saudi Arabian security forces. Both ended up on the U.S. State Departments terrorist watchlist in 2010. Both of these highly valued individuals alone would meet the criteria to execute a clandestine raid to extract ground truth intelligence from on the operations of AQAP. However one high value target that CENTCOM or the United States isn’t talking about is the AQAP leader, Qassim al-Rimi.
Al-Rimi received training in the al-Qaeda muhajideen camps of Afghanistan in the 1990’s. Al-Rimi then took his training and connections with al-Qaeda Central command and traveled back to Sanaa, Yemen. Al-Rimi was arrested in Sanaa around 2005 for plotting terrorist acts against Yemeni and Saudi Arabian government forces where he met with the then current commander of AQAP, Nasir al-Wuhayshi and they both began to develop a plan to link up Saudi and Yemeni al-Qaeda cells to encompass the Arabian Peninsula. Their big break came on 2006 when al-Rimi and Wuhayshi along with 22 other suspected AQAP terrorists escaped from their Sanaa prison and disappeared into southern Yemen. Al-Rimi and Wuhayshi immediately began recruiting and building AQAP’s base in southern Yemen. After a U.S. drone strike in 2015 that killed Wuhayshi, al-Rimi was appointed as the overall Emir of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula which was blessed off on by al-Qaeda central commander, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Qassim al-Rimi is the highest value target in Yemen, and local Yemeni intelligence officials are claiming he was present during the raid and that al-Rimi was the primary target and was to be taken alive.
The target location was a compound situated in the mountain region of Yakla within the Bayda providence. SOFREP obtained unconfirmed reports from an anonymous source with connections inside the U.S. intelligence community that the compound had a heavy AQAP militant presence with roving “mobile security vehicles” providing overlapping security. The joint assault that was led by SEAL Team 6 more than likely originated from the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) U.S. Naval Expeditionary Base known as ‘Camp Lemonnier’ situated within the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport in Djibouti. The DEVGRU task force was reported to have loaded up into MV-22 Ospreys and once they were passed the green-light to execute the assault, took off in the early morning hours for their target in Yemen.
What is already known and has been reported on is that the raid went south, quickly. Media reports from the assault are indicating that the raid was initiated with an Apache attack helicopter launching a Hellfire missile into a building that purportedly housed the high value targets, al-Dhahab and al-Nims who were designated for “capture.” The SEAL Team 6 assault force helicopter then came under heavy fire while the task force was rappelling, “fast-roping” onto the objective directly after the missile strike and the MV-22 essentially crashed to the ground. However after speaking to SOFREP’s anonymous source, the unofficial report is that the task force was compromised during its ingress into the target area which changes the timeline narrative. SOFREP will attempt to put the raid timeline together.
Zero Dark Thirty
The most probable course of action that SEAL Team 6 took was that the mission was to land just adjacent to the compound and enter it as rapidly as possible encompassing the objective. As the ST6 assault force helicopter flared to land, the aircraft began taking heavy fire from the compound itself. The SEAL team immediately took casualties and the aircraft had to make an emergency landing. Now with one American dead, three gravely wounded and a helicopter down, the SEAL task force began to attempt to gain fire superiority over the AQAP security force within the compound. The ensuing firefight was reported to have lasted over 45 minutes, which after assessing its casualties and seeing the assault all but stalled. The SEAL Team 6 task force had no other choice than to call in a Quick Reaction Force, or QRF.
The QRF would come from a U.S. Marine unit stationed in the Horn of Africa, which more than likely came from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit or 13th MEU. The MEU is currently in the Horn in support of CTF-HOA. This QRF package included possibly two Bell AH-1 Cobra Attack Helicopters which according to reports were cleared to engage a building within the compound and launched Hellfire missiles into the house that the HVTs. were suspected to be in. Other reports stated that an MV-22 Osprey took heavy fire as assault elements rappelled into the fray, which could have been a platoon of Marines of the 13th MEU as part of the QRF package to augment the SEAL Team assault force in gaining fire superiority during the gun fight and to provide security for the SEAL Team 6 task force’s ex-filtration from the objective.
SEAL Team 6 along with its QRF ended the gun battle with conflicting reports indicating between 14 to 30 AQAP militants were killed which included both Abdul Raouf al-Dhahab and Seif al-Nims. Yet no word on whether or not Qassim al-Rimi was present, among the dead, or taken alive. However, local Yemeni intelligence along with supposed eyewitnesses reported seeing U.S. forces “carrying” two unidentified individuals from within the compound and directly onto an awaiting helicopter and then departed with the SEAL Team 6 task force. When SOFREP asked its source on whether or not the AQAP leader Qassim al -Rimi was there and potentially captured. The source simply stated: “He was there, and he is dead.” The source went on and also confirmed reporting that this mission was in fact an intelligence gathering operation with the intent on capturing the HVT’s alive along with any other intelligence they could find. The source continued by stating in respects to the mission’s intent on capturing HVT’s for further questioning and information gathering, that part of the operation failed due to the heavy volume of fire and resistance given by the AQAP fighters on target. The source also stated that this operation has put a huge dent in the AQAP leadership and al-Qaeda operations within the Arabian Peninsula that will take some time to recover from.
Feature image courtesy: USMC