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US tries to ID hundreds of al Qaeda operatives thanks to Yemen raid

Posted at 3:03 PM, Mar 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-02 15:04:10-05

WASHINGTON — Several US officials told CNN Thursday that the US is now taking action to locate and monitor hundreds of people or “contacts” found as part the intelligence retrieved during the deadly raid last month in Yemen targeting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Some of these people are believed to be in the West, but not in the United States.

The government is taking action to find and monitor these AQAP-linked individuals because of the threat they may pose to Europe, the officials added.

The fact that officials said they are actively pursuing leads uncovered from the raid indicates that the intelligence was indeed actionable despite some media reports to the contrary.

The terabyte’s worth of intelligence gathered from computers and cell phones is now being reviewed at the National Media Exploitation Center outside Washington, which analyzes documents, electronic media, cell phones, video and audio tapes seized on overseas missions.

Defense officials have told CNN that information pertaining to the location of safe havens, explosives manufacturing, training and targets was acquired in the January ground operation.

But the raid has faced questions from lawmakers about its utility and execution, with several Trump critics questioning the value of the intelligence, whether the right calculation about the raid’s risks was made and whether the result was worth the costs. The father of Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed in the firefight, has called for an investigation.

A number of civilians were also killed in the battle, something the Pentagon has acknowledged and is investigating.

Gen. Joseph Votel, who oversees US troops in the region, called the mission “successful” from the military’s point of view.

“The object was to go in and collect intelligence. We accomplished that, so from that perspective it was successful. I certainly understand how the family would look at this in a different light,” Votel told CBS News.

President Donald Trump defended the January raid in his Tuesday address to Congress. As Trump spoke, Owens’ widow, Carryn, looked up at the ceiling, seemingly to her late husband, as she sat crying.

“Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies,’ ” Trump said.

AQAP is considered by many analysts to be al Qaeda’s most capable affiliate, and the organization has been able to carve out a safe haven in Yemen amid the ongoing civil war there between government loyalists and Houthi rebels.

The terror group has been linked to attacks in the West, including the 2015 Charlie Hebdo newspaper office massacre in Paris.

“AQAP has taken advantage of ungoverned spaces in Yemen to plot, direct and inspire terror attacks against the United States and our allies,” US Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Thursday following a series of US airstrikes in Yemen against the terror group.

A US defense official said that the strikes overnight were not connected to the intelligence obtained in January, since the strikes had been planned for some time.