Reports of Civilian Casualties as U S Raid in Syria Appears to Target

Helicopter-borne Special Operations troops carried out the risky predawn commando assault. U. S. Special Operations forces carried out what the Pentagon called a “successful” counterterrorism mission in northwest Syria early Thursday. But the risky commando assault against what was believed to be a Qaeda leader came amid reports from the scene that several civilians, including children, may have been killed or injured. American helicopters ferried the commandos into position soon after midnight, surrounding a house in Atmeh, a town close to the border with Turkey in rebel-held Idlib Province, according to American analysts monitoring Syrian social media reports and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A long, tense standoff ensued, with helicopter loudspeakers blaring warnings in Arabic for women and children inside the house to evacuate, according to social media and witness accounts. After about two hours, a major battle erupted, with rocket-propelled grenades and other fire hurtling from the house and surrounding buildings toward the Americans. During the operation, one of the American helicopters suffered a mechanical problem, was forced to land and was later destroyed by American attack aircraft. At some point, the American commandos and their remaining helicopters flew off, witnesses said. Shortly after midnight on Thursday in Washington, John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, issued a terse statement: “U. S. Special Operations forces under the control of U. S. Central Command conducted a counterterrorism mission this evening in northwest Syria. The mission was successful. There were no U. S. casualties. More information will be provided as it becomes available.”Video from the scene on social media showed people pulling bodies of at least nine men, women and children from the rubble of the badly damaged house, said Charles Lister, the director of the Washington-based Middle East Institute’s Syria and Countering Terrorism and Extremism Programs, who was monitoring the videos and aircraft-tracking websites. Witnesses suggested that American counterfire against the house caused the damage, but a senior American military official said there was an explosion inside the house that was not caused by U. S. firepower. The size, scope and duration of the battle suggested that the target of the raid was likely a senior Qaeda figure, Mr. Lister said. The fact that the United States risked sending in commandos, and not just launching airstrikes, also suggested the focus of the raid was a senior figure. American officials declined to identify the target, refusing to comment on whether it was a senior regional Qaeda leader, or even the terrorist group’s top leader himself, Ayman al-Zawahri, who is believed to be in the rugged border areas straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan. The White House was abuzz on Wednesday night about something secretive afoot, and Pentagon officials were unusually tight-lipped about the mission’s details.

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