A day after the father of Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, the Navy SEAL who died in last month’s counterterrorism raid in Yemen, questioned the motivation for the operation, U.S. officials told NBC News that the raid produced no significant intelligence.
“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why? For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen — everything was missiles and drones — because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?’’ Bill Owens told the Miami Herald.
A senior congressional official briefed on the matter told NBC News that the Trump administration has yet to explain what prompted the operation. Echoing Senator John McCain’s remarks following a classified briefing earlier this month, the official said that the raid was intended to kill or capture certain Al Qaeda militants. NBC News previously reported that Qassim al-Rimi, the leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, was the intended target, but U.S. Central Command, the Pentagon, and the White House have denied that.
Pentagon officials have said the raid yielded “actionable intelligence,” and earlier this month White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “We gathered an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil.”
Spicer also said that anyone who criticizes the raid does “a disservice to the life of Chief Owens.” In his remarks over the weekend, Bill Owens said, “Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation.”
When asked to respond to Owens’s remarks on Tuesday, Spicer reiterated that the operation produced valuable intelligence. “I can tell him that on behalf of the president, his son died a hero and the information that he was able to help obtain through that raid, as I said before, is going to save American lives,” he said. “The mission was successful in helping prevent a future attack or attacks on this nation.”
Spicer also noted on Tuesday that the Department of Defense is already conducting a review of the matter, which is “standard operating procedure” when a U.S. service member is killed.
Owens did not elaborate on what kind of investigation he wanted to see, but on Tuesday VoteVets, a progressive veterans group, said the military’s internal review “cannot examine the decision-making process at the top,” and called for a congressional investigation. “If the Congress can find time to hold multiple and repetitive hearings into Benghazi, it can certainly find the time to hold a single hearing into the botched Yemen raid, ordered by Donald Trump,” the group said in a statement.