An Eight-Year-Old Survivor Describes the Largest Known U.S. Ground Raid in Yemen

January 22, 2019
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by Priyanka Boghani Digital Reporter & Producer

Eight-year-old Mujahid has a dazzling smile. He starts recounting his experience of a U.S. ground raid on his tiny village in Yemen almost like it’s a fairy tale — one gone terribly wrong. “They came from far, far away. There were so many of them. Each one of them had someone else behind them.”

When a villager asks him what happened to him, he replies, “America.”

Mujahid says a block of cement from the roof fell on his back during the raid, damaging his back and hearing. His uncle was killed.

For several years, the United States has considered the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda to be one of the most dangerous affiliates of the terrorist group. Under the Trump administration, the counter-terrorism fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, has escalated, despite an ongoing multi-front war that has led to what the United Nations has called the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

In Targeting Yemen, FRONTLINE correspondent Safa Al Ahmad travels to Yemen to visit the sites of American ground raids and drone strikes, and speak to witnesses and survivors like Mujahid to understand the impact of that escalation on civilians.

The raid on Mujahid’s village, which took place on May 23, 2017, is the largest known U.S. Special Forces ground raid in the country. The villagers say Al Ahmad is the first foreign journalist to visit the village since then.

“The people who lived in the village described an apocalyptic scene,” Al Ahmad says. “They were so frightened about the amount of U.S. soldiers that were sent, the helicopters, the drones.”

At the time, the Pentagon said seven terrorists were killed, with no civilian casualties.

A U.N. investigation later found that five civilians were also killed, including an 80-year-old man. The report said 50 U.S. soldiers took part in the raid and villagers “could not have been aware that only one particular house was being targeted” when they attacked the U.S. forces.

Targeting Yemen, which airs on Jan. 22, examines how the U.S. counter-terrorism operation against Al Qaeda in Yemen — through drone strikes and ground raids — has added to the fear and confusion felt by Yemeni civilians in a time of war.

Targeting Yemen premieres Tuesday, Jan. 22 in a two-part hour that begins at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST on PBS stations (check local listings) and online.

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