In an interview with the Miami Herald published Sunday, Bill Owens — father of Chief Ryan Owens, the 36-year-old Navy SEAL who died during President Trump’s first military operation — criticized the Yemen raid, and said he doesn’t have any interest in talking with Trump.
“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into [President Trump’s] administration?” Owens said. “For two years prior… everything was missiles and drones (in Yemen)… Now all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?”
Trump was asked about Owens’ comments during a Fox & Friends interview that aired Tuesday morning. He responded by trying to blame President Obama for a mission Trump gave final approval for over dinner with his advisers during his first full weekend as president.
“Well, this was a mission that was started before I got here,” Trump said. “This was something that was, you know, they wanted to do. They came to see me, they explained what they wanted to do — the generals, who are very respected, my generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe.”
Trump acknowledged the Owens family’s loss, but maintained that the mission was a success.
“And they lost Ryan, and I was at the airport when the casket came in, the body came in, and it was a very sad — with his family and it’s a great family, incredible wife and children, I met most of the family, and I can understand people saying that,” Trump continued. “What’s worse? There’s nothing worse. But again this was something that they were looking at for a long time, and according to General Mattis, it was a very successful mission, they got tremendous amounts of information.”
On Fox, Trump responds to criticism of father of Navy SEAL killed in Yemen raid,says "this was a mission that was started before I got here" pic.twitter.com/m3YbN0D8zF
— Vera Bergengruen (@VeraMBergen) February 28, 2017
Trump’s comments about the mission being successful are directly contradicted by an NBC report that says the mission yielded no significant intelligence.
“Although Pentagon officials have said the raid produced ‘actionable intelligence,’ senior officials who spoke to NBC News said they were unaware of any, even as the father of the dead SEAL questioned the premise of the raid in an interview with the Miami Herald published Sunday,” NBC reports. “A senior Congressional official briefed on the matter said the Trump administration has yet to explain what prompted the rare use of American ground troops in Yemen, but he said he was not aware of any new threat from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al Qaeda affiliate that was targeted.”
NBC reports that in addition to Ryan’s death, “six other U.S. service members were wounded. And at least 25 civilians were killed, including nine children under the age of 13, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.”
And despite Trump’s attempt to dodge accountability, NBC reports that “[p]lans for the raid were begun during the Obama administration, but Obama officials declined to sign off on what officials described as a significant escalation in Yemen. Just five days in, Trump greenlighted the mission.”
In a previous report, NBC cited a “senior U.S. military official” who said “almost everything went wrong” during the day. In the days following, U.S. CENTCOM acknowledged that “regrettably… civilian non-combatants were likely killed in the midst of a firefight during a raid in Yemen January 29. Casualties may include children.”
The Guardian, citing unnamed officials, reported 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.” Days later, Reuters reported that unnamed U.S. military officials told them Trump signed off on the raid “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 issues continued after the SEAL team hit the ground. An official told CNN that “during the gun battle, al Qaeda fighters took up firing positions on the roof of a nearby building and that the US troops came under fire, calling in an airstrike against the building which likely led to the civilian casualties.”
“The raid encountered more problems when an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft was forced to undergo a ‘hard landing’ which resulted in three additional service members being injured,” CNN adds. “The military opted to destroy the aircraft in an airstrike to prevent it falling into enemy hands.”
After Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) described the raid as a “failure” on February 7, Trump responded with a tweetstorm blasting the war hero.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer also took an indirect shot at McCain, saying “anyone who would suggest it’s not a success does disservice to the life of Chief Ryan Owens.” Those comments angered Owens’ father.
“Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation,” Owens told the Herald. “I want an investigation… The government owes my son an investigation.”
Over the weekend, a Trump spokesman said the president may support an investigation into the Yemen raid. But during another part of the Fox & Friends interview, Trump indicated his willingness to self-criticize is limited.
Asked if he could cite an example “of a time when someone was critical of you and you thought to yourself, I deserved that hit, I deserved that column,” Trump said, “No, probably I could never do that.”