The star of ‘Celebrity Commander-in-Chief’ reportedly “approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations,” according to military officials who spoke with Reuters.
Their version of events contradicts the White House, which told the news agency that “the operation was thoroughly vetted by the previous administration and that the previous defense secretary had signed off on it in January.”
In fact, the plan was outlined and developed under President Barack Obama. But he did not follow through before leaving office because the mission was supposed to take place under a new moon, which would not happen until after Inauguration Day.
Donald Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner and strategist Steve Bannon were present when the new president approved the plan for the raid with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. on Sunday, according to The New York Times.
After the SEALs and their allies from the UAE went into action, “almost everything that could go wrong did,” they report. A V-22 Osprey aircraft landed too hard during the casualty extraction and had to be destroyed with a guided bomb.
“The death of Chief Petty Officer William Owens came after a chain of mishaps and misjudgments that plunged the elite commandos into a ferocious 50-minute firefight that also left three others wounded and a $75 million aircraft deliberately destroyed.”
But the mission’s casualties raise doubts about the months of detailed planning that went into the operation during the Obama administration and whether the right questions were raised before its approval. Typically, the president’s advisers lay out the risks, but Pentagon officials declined to characterize any discussions with Mr. Trump.
A senior administration official said on Wednesday night that the Defense Department had conducted a legal review of the operation that Mr. Trump approved and that a Pentagon lawyer had signed off on it.
[…] Through a communications intercept, the commandos knew that the mission had been somehow compromised, but pressed on toward their target roughly five miles from where they had been flown into the area. “They kind of knew they were screwed from the beginning,” one former SEAL Team 6 official said.
Upon landing, the SEALs found themselves attacking a well-armed and prepared enemy using snipers and land mines. Not only were there more militants than expected in the village of Yakla, women took up arms in defense of their community. SEALs were forced to call in Marine Cobra gunships and Harrier jets to provide more firepower.
The raid was catastrophic for Yakla. The Pentagon estimates at least 14 militants and 14 civilians were killed, including children. Among them was eight year-old Nawar al-Awlaki, American citizen and daughter of deceased Al Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki, who died in a controversial drone strike in 2011.
Civilian casualties are probably higher than that, however. Acknowledging that likelihood, US Central Command “seeks to determine if there were any still-undetected civilian casualties in the ferocious firefight,” according to Reuters.
Predictably, President Trump pronounced the operation a success. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the raid “gathered an unbelievable amount of intelligence” in the form of laptops and cell phones.
Donald wants to see a lot more raids in Yemen, and National Security Adviser Mike Flynn wants to devolve responsibility on local commanders to encourage a faster pace of operations. Future disasters may unfold without any direct input from the White House.
By contrast, President Obama was very sparing with his use of American special forces in Yemen. There had been no commando raids in the country since 2014.
UPDATE: The Guardian is reporting that Obama actually nixed this raid. They quote CENTCOM spokesman Col. John Thomas:
Thomas said he did not know why the prior administration did not authorize the operation, but said the Obama administration had effectively exercised a “pocket veto” over it.
A former official said the operation had been reviewed several times, but the underlying intelligence was not judged strong enough to justify the risks, and the case was left to the incoming Trump administration to make its own judgment.
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