Minimal intelligence. Navy SEALs unequipped for the firefight they encountered. Al Qaeda fighters that knew they were coming. An Osprey that hard-landed and had to be destroyed. One SEAL dead along with at least 10 civilian women and children. None of this was supposed to happen.
And yet it did, in the first known military raid of Donald Trump’s presidential administration over this past weekend, one that was by nearly all accounts a disaster. Under normal circumstances it probably would’ve passed quietly. But the raid, deep into Yemeni desert, was anything but quiet.
The incident is detailed in a damning Reuters report, which details a harrowing account of Navy SEALs, unequipped for a large amount of resistance, dropped into a reinforced Al Qaeda stronghold packed to the brim with enemy troops, land mines, and snipers, all in effort to gather some intelligence.
And Al Qaeda knew that the SEALs, along with a special forces team from the United Arab Emirates, were coming before they even got there, according to the New York Times:
In this case, the assault force of several dozen commandos, which also included elite soldiers from the United Arab Emirates, was jinxed from the start. Qaeda fighters were somehow tipped off to the stealthy advance toward the village — perhaps by the whine of American drones that local tribal leaders said were flying lower and louder than usual.
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.
During the course of the night, the Reuters report says, a “brutal firefight” erupted, resulting in the death of at least 30, including one SEAL, 14 militants, and the aforementioned civilians, which reports indicate were being used as human shields by the militants. And as the SEALs found an immediate need to get out of the situation, everything seemed to get worse:
As Sunday’s firefight intensified, the raiders called in Marine helicopter gunships and Harrier jump jets, and then two MV-22 Osprey vertical takeoff and landing aircraft to extract the SEALs.
One of the two suffered engine failure, two of the officials said, and hit the ground so hard that two crew members were injured, and one of the Marine jets had to launch a precision-guided bomb to destroy it.
One of the civilians killed, Nora al-Awlaki, was an eight-year-old girl and an American citizen. Her father, Anwar al-Awlaki, was born in New Mexico, and was considered a major Al Qaeda figure before his death from an American drone strike in 2011.
The initial notice about this weekend’s incident from the United States Department of Defense was vague, belying the clandestine nature of most Special Forces work:
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a U.S. Navy sailor who was supporting U.S. Central Command Operations.
Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, 36, of Peoria, Illinois, died Jan. 28 in the Arabian Peninsula of Yemen, of wounds sustained in a raid against al-Qaida.
He was assigned to an East Coast based Special Warfare unit.
But as more details unfolded, and more questions arise, the only conclusion that seems to gained thus far is that the entire thing, from top to bottom, was the result of multiple failures from the highest levels of government.
Starting with why the raid was even greenlit in the first place.
Military officials quoted in the Reuters piece appear to place the blame squarely at the feet of the Trump administration, after President Obama originally considered executing the raid but decided against it:
U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.
[...] One of the three U.S. officials said on-the-ground surveillance of the compound was “minimal, at best.”
“The decision was made ... to leave it to the incoming administration, partly in the hope that more and better intelligence could be collected,” that official said.
In an era where the Navy SEALs are considered near-invincible, and in a time when their Commander-in-Chief is fond of aggressive nationalist bluster, this raid ended up not just resulting in a tragedy, but it looks to have been an avoidable one as well.
All that being said, the Trump administration is crowing about its accomplishments, the Reuters report notes, with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer saying that it resulted in an “unbelievable” amount of intelligence, and that members of the military understand the risks they undertake when they volunteer to join the service.
President Trump made the first visit of his administration to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware last night, as the body of Chief Ryan Owens was unloaded off of a plane.