Trump's First Kill: Why the Deadly US SEAL Mission in Yemen Failed

© AP Photo / Hani MohammedSmoke rises after Saudi-led airstrikes hit a food factory in Sanaa, Yemen. (File)
Smoke rises after Saudi-led airstrikes hit a food factory in Sanaa, Yemen. (File) - Sputnik International
Less than two weeks into Donald Trump's presidency, a contentious raid on Al Qaeda in Yemen left a decorated US Navy SEAL and ten children under the age of 13 dead; America's NBC News asserts that the new President was entirely to blame.

NBC News conducted an investigation into the mission that led to the death of SEAL Ryan Owens.

During his speech before Congress, the newly-elect President Trump praised the Navy special operations frogman who perished during a raid in Yemen. Owens’s grieving widow was present during the speech. 

"Ryan's legacy is etched into eternity," President Trump said as he looked at Ms. Ryan.

NBC News, however, conducted an investigation and came to the conclusion that President Trump was to blame for the initiating the combat operation.

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According to NBC, Owens died during a "black ops" raid – a super-secret operation in Yemen. The operation was part of a strategy developed by the Obama administration starting in early 2016.

"In late 2016, as the Obama administration deliberated [its] next steps in the country, a new campaign plan was created," NBC reads. 

"But it deferred a final decision, and as is customary in any handoff from one (presidential) administration to another; President Trump was accorded the privilege of approving any new operations and commitments."

While the White House was still in transition, US and UAE intelligence kept working on Yemen. The intelligence officers identified a village where "important activity” was taking place. The intelligence agencies asserted that the site was an important facility of Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a terrorist organization, and proposed a manned raid.

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The official objective was to retrieve electronics and documents that would have provided the US forces with information on the membership of AQAP. NBC claims that there was another objective, secret even from "many inside Pentagon" – a capture or kill order on AQAP leaders. 

The mission had been discussed by President Trump’s security team, which reportedly included: the President himself, Vice President Pence, Defense Secretary James Mattis, then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, CIA Director nominee Mike Pompeo, chief strategist to the President Steve Bannon, and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.

In a break with the policies established by previous administrations, no State Department representative was present at the meeting.

According to two unnamed sources in the White House, Mattis and Dunford described the mission to President Trump. Their idea was that, if AQAP leaders were indeed on site, the raid would be a big win for US forces. Otherwise, intelligence material would still be good enough, as it would have provided information for more raids.

Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner argued, though, calling the plan “the leftover” from Obama's administration.

President Trump reportedly consulted Flynn, a former director of intelligence for the JSOC. After consulting with his former colleagues at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina and allegedly speaking to his UAE counterparts, Flynn advised approving the raid, arguing that decisive action would win Trump political points, as opposed to President Obama, “a hesitant and endless deliberator,” NBC reports.

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The mission was approved. Owens’ team was supposed to hike several kilometers covertly, infiltrate the village and take AQAP by surprise. However, as soon as the team entered the village, it was ambushed by AQAP fighters, accompanied by civilians with weapons (even women reportedly fought that night). 

The village was fortified and rigged with landmines. Despite losing the element of surprise, the mission commanders decided to proceed. 

A gunfight ensued, in which Owens was seriously wounded some five minutes into the battle. Two CV-22 Osprey helicopters were dispatched to assist the fight. 

"An additional Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier jump jets and attack helicopters followed to take on the AQAP force," NBC said.

However, one Osprey crashed upon landing – the officials would call it a "hard landing" afterwards; the plane was destroyed by another Osprey to prevent it from falling into AQAP hands.

Despite the troubled beginning, in the end, 14 AQAP fighters were killed, including two leaders (reportedly). At least 16 civilians were reportedly killed as well. 

"Ten of those civilians were children under the age of 13, NBC News has determined from official documents verified by U.S. intelligence."

Five US servicemen were injured and Owens was dead. It is unknown how the mission was compromised.

According to NBC, what "happened in Yemen might have been chalked up to the tragedy and fog of war."

At first, the White House claimed the operation a success.

This weekend we carried out a very successful raid against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said at a briefing. "Obviously, we recovered a tremendous amount of information," he said the next day.

This was immediately criticized by Senator John McCain, a vocal critic of President Trump.

"When you lose a $75 million airplane and, more importantly, an American … life is lost and [there are] wounded, I don't believe that you can call it a success," McCain told NBC News.

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Spicer rebuffed the criticism by controversially mentioning the name of Ryan Owens.

"I think anybody who, who undermines the success of that raid… owes an apology and [does] a disservice to the life of Chief Owens," Spicer replied.

President Trump’s reaction the next day was to shift blame for the attack to Obama:

"Well, this was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, you know, just, they wanted to do," Trump told Fox News. "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 would, I believe.”

The person to finally take responsibility was Army Gen. Joseph Votel, Commander of United States Central Command.

"I accept the responsibility for this. We lost a lot on this operation. We lost a valued operator, we had people wounded, we caused civilian casualties, we lost an expensive aircraft,” he said, maintaining, nevertheless, that valuable intelligence was gathered.

NBC concludes its report with unanswered questions.

"Why was Ryan Owens' mission launched nine days after President Trump took office, and what did the mission achieve in terms of weakening al Qaeda?"

It is unlikely the NBC will be able to answer the latter question, as the exact answer is probably highly classified. 

As for the former, it could be argued that President Trump could have waited until he'd been in office for a month (why not?) before authorizing the ill-fated raid.

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