New questions have emerged about what went wrong in the U.S. military raid against Al Qaeda in Yemen last weekend. Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, a Navy SEAL, was killed in the operation and three other U.S. service members were injured. Nawar Al-Awlaki, the 8-year-old daughter of American Al Qaeda leader Anwar Al-Awlaki, was also killed, and local reports say as many as 30 people died. The raid was the first operation approved by President Trump.
Earlier this week, a senior military official told NBC News that “almost everything went wrong” during the mission. The aim was to detain Yemeni tribal leaders working with Al Qaeda and gather phones and computers that could yield intelligence. But Navy SEALS found themselves in an intense 50-minute firefight, with Al Qaeda fighters using women and children as cover, and some of the women firing at the commandos.
Airstrikes were called in to take out the Al Qaeda fighters, and then two MV-22 Ospreys were sent in to extract the SEALs. One experienced a “hard landing,” injuring crew members, and the $75 million aircraft had to be destroyed by a precision-guided bomb to keep it from falling into enemy hands.
Now several military officials are suggesting that President Trump was to blame. Per Reuters:
U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations.
As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced Al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.
U.S. Central Command spokesman Colonel John Thomas responded, “CENTCOM asks for operations we believe have a good chance for success, and when we ask for authorization we certainly believe there is a chance of successful operations based on our planning.” He also noted, “Any operation where you are going to put operators on the ground has inherent risks.”
The Obama administration spent months planning the raid, but the New York Times reports that President Obama did not authorize the attack because the Pentagon wanted to conduct the attack on a moonless night, which wouldn’t happen again during his term.
One of the three officials told Reuters, “The decision was made … to leave it to the incoming administration, partly in the hope that more and better intelligence could be collected.”
The Times said Trump decided to approve the raid during a dinner attended by Defense Secretary James Mattis, Vice-President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Top advisers Jared Kushner and Steven Bannon were also present.
The Reuters report does not offer any more detail on whether the officials fault the Obama administration for inadequate prep work as well, or what exactly they think the Trump team should have done differently. But the Times notes that Flynn “has said that it wants to speed the decision-making when it comes to such strikes, delegating more power to lower-level officials so that the military may respond more quickly.” And the Pentagon has been working on plans to move faster against Al Qaeda in Yemen.
It’s significant that three military sources were willing to suggest President Trump was too hasty, particularly when the administration is having public disagreements with the State Department, the acting attorney general, and other public agencies. But so far it’s not clear what — if anything — could have been done to prevent the tragic events in Yemen.