Unnamed U.S. military officials told Reuters that President Trump’s first military raid was approved by the president “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,” Reuters reports.
The raid — which took place over the weekend in the al Bayda province of Yemen — resulted in the death of a U.S. Navy SEAL and many civilians. Yemeni officials say 16 civilians — eight women and eight children — were killed, while medics at the scene said the number of deaths was about 30. The Pentagon says 14 militants were among the dead. U.S. officials say the raid’s objective was to gather intelligence, not kill people.
Among those killed was Nawar al-Awlaki, an 8-year-old American girl, her family says. She was the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
U.S. military Central Command acknowledged the civilians deaths in a statement released Wednesday.
“A team designated by the operational task force commander has concluded regrettably that civilian non-combatants were likely killed in the midst of a firefight during a raid in Yemen January 29. Casualties may include children,” CENTCOM said. “The known possible civilian casualties appear to have been potentially caught up in aerial gunfire that was called in to assist US forces in contact against a determined enemy that included armed women firing from prepared fighting positions, and US special operations members receiving fire from all sides to include houses and other buildings.”
The statement adds that investigations continue to work to determine if there “were any still-undetected civilian casualties.”
While planning for the raid began while Barack Obama was president, the Guardian, citing unnamed officials, reports that “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.”
The raid, which was undertaken by the elite Joint Special Operations Command, “was the subject of a preliminary inquiry to determine if allegations of civilian deaths were sufficiently credible to merit a full investigation,” the Guardian adds.
In December 2015, Trump said he would kill the family members of terrorists to stop ISIS.
“We’re fighting a very politically correct war,” Trump said during a Fox & Friends interview. “And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. They, they care about their lives. Don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.”
During a press conference on Tuesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer dodged a question about whether Trump stood by those remarks.
The U.S. SEAL killed during the raid — the first known U.S. combat casualty under President Trump — has been identified as Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, a 36-year-old from Peoria, Illinois. Trump and his daughter Ivanka slipped out of the White House to honor the return of Owens’ remains at the Dover Air Base in Delaware. Trump tweeted about it Thursday morning.
Attending Chief Ryan Owens' Dignified Transfer yesterday with my daughter Ivanka was my great honor. To a great and brave man – thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
In a statement released shortly after the al Bayda raid, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group expressed concern about President Trump’s first raid and what it signals about his approach to extremism.
“The first military actions by the Trump administration in Yemen bode poorly for the prospect of smartly and effectively countering AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula],” the statement said. “The use of US soldiers, high civilian casualties and disregard for local tribal and political dynamics… plays into AQAP’s narrative of defending Muslims against the West and could increase anti-US sentiment and with it AQAP’s pool of recruits.”