Civilians were "likely" killed in a U.S. commando raid in Yemen over the weekend and children may have been among the dead, U.S. Central Command (CENTOM) said on Wednesday.
"A team designated by the operational task force commander has concluded regrettably that civilian non-combatants were likely killed in the midst of a firefight during a raid in Yemen January 29. Casualties may include children," CENTCOM said in a statement.
"The known possible civilian casualties appear to have been potentially caught up in aerial gunfire that was called in to assist U.S. forces in contact against a determined enemy that included armed women firing from prepared fighting positions, and US special operations members receiving fire from all sides to include houses and other buildings," the statement read.
Local sources put the number of total fatalities at 30, including the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born, Yemeni al-Qaida leader who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011, among the dead.
A Yemeni provincial official had previously said 16 civilians were killed in the raid, including 8 women and 8 children, but CENTCOM did not provide any numbers.
The civilian deaths appear to have occurred when U.S. aircraft were called to help the commandos as they conducted the dawn raid that US officials say killed 14 Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) members.
The Jan. 29 raid against AQAP has garnered considerable attention because a navy seal was also killed and several more wounded in what marked the first such action under President Donald Trump.
Officials were conducting an ongoing "credibility assessment" to see if there may have been additional civilian casualties in the intense firefight.
CENTCOM described the raid as a "complex" situation that included small-arms fire, hand grenades and close air-support fire. "Al-Qaeda 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," CENTCOM spokesman Colonel John Thomas said. "That's what makes cases like these so especially tragic."
Trump on Wednesday flew from the White House aboard the Marine One presidential helicopter to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for the repatriation of Owens's remains.
The raid snagged "an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said earlier. But "you never want to call something a success 100 percent when someone's hurt or killed," he told reporters.
The terrorist group is regarded as one of al-Qaida's most-active branches in the world and has taken advantage of an ongoing civil war in Yemen to expand its foothold in the country.
Yemen's internationally recognized government has been locked in conflict with the Houthi rebels since late 2014. The conflict has intensified since March 2015 when the Houthis first advanced on the southern city of Aden, prompting Saudi Arabia and Sunni allies to start an air campaign against the Shiite group.