President Donald Trump gave the green light to a botched al Qaeda raid in Yemen last weekend without having adequate intelligence on the base, according to reports.
Military officials told Reuters that Trump approved the operation, his first as commander in chief, without having sufficient ground support in place. A U.S. Navy SEAL died in the operation, as the lack of ample intelligence led to the U.S. troops dropping into an al Qaeda base that had been reinforced with landmines and snipers and had more heavily armed combatants than were expected.
The Pentagon said 14 militants were killed in the raid, though medics at the base said 30 people had died, including 10 women and children. The military is investigating whether more civilians died than were initially reported.
U.S. Central Command said in a statement that it “seeks to determine if there were any still-undetected civilian casualties in the ferocious firefight.”
A raid on the base of the al Qaeda branch AQAP, located in Yemen’s al Bayda province, had been planned for months but President Barack Obama declined to approve a military operation before he left the White House, leaving the assault for Trump to approve.
The raid had been vetted by the previous administration, a White House official told Reuters, and previous defense secretary Ash Carter had signed off on it. However, the operation was postponed due to operational reasons, according to the official. CNN reported that one of the reasons for the delay was the need to wait for a moonless night to better provide cover of darkness for the SEALs.
A firefight at the base led to the deaths of Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens and at least 15 women and children, Reuters reported, including the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a militant who died in a U.S. drone strike in 2011. Some of the women were firing at the U.S. elite forces, according to a Pentagon spokesman.
While the SEALs did not detain any enemy combatants or take any prisoners from the base, Trump administration press secretary Sean Spicer suggested that there were some positives that emerged from the raid.
“Knowing that we killed an estimated 14 AQAP members and that we gathered an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil […] is something that I think most service members understand, that that’s why they joined the service.”
The U.S. forces reportedly recovered intelligence during the raid, including hard drives. According to al Qaeda, a senior leader of the organization’s branch, Abdulraoof al-Dhahab, died along with other militants in the battle.
Yet the deaths of Owens and the women and children may give some observers cause for concern, as military officials cited in the Reuters report suggested that not nearly enough intelligence was gathered on the base and activity there before Trump approved the raid.
One official claimed that on-the-ground surveillance had been “minimal, at best” and that the Obama administration had deferred any action on the base to the Trump administration, “partly in the hope that more and better intelligence could be collected.”
Though ground support was reportedly insufficient, as the gunbattle continued, the SEALs called in air support from helicopter gunships and Harrier jump jets. As combatants positioned themselves on a nearby rooftop and fired at the SEALs, the troops called in an airstrike on the building, which may have been the cause of civilian casualties.
The SEALs also called in two Osprey aircraft to extract them from the base. However, one of the Ospreys had engine problems and hit the ground hard enough to injure three service members, though none were seriously harmed. As a result, forces needed to carry out an airstrike to destroy the Osprey to protect its technology from falling into the hands of U.S. enemies.
On Wednesday, Trump paid a surprise visit to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to honor the return of Owens’ remains and meet with Owens’ family.
[Featured Image by Carolyn Kaster/AP Images]