Fears over what the United States’ expansive War on Terror looks like with President Donald Trump at the helm were confirmed this week after a hastily-approved, dangerous ground assault resulted in the deaths of one U.S soldier and dozens of Yemeni civilians, including women and children.
Quoting unnamed U.S. military officials, Reuters reported Wednesday that the covert operation was approved by the president “without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations.”
Indeed, the New York Times observed that “almost everything that could go wrong did.”
Trump, who has notably shunned many of his national security and intelligence briefings and who has also been loathe to fill many crucial positions at departments of State and Defense, approved the invasion “over dinner” with his tight-knit circle of advisers including son-in-law Jared Kushner, chief strategist Stephen Bannon, Vice President Mike Pence, national security advisor Michael Flynn, as well as Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to the Times.
Though Trump dubbed the raid a “success,” concerns were immediately raised over the number of Yemenis, including women and children, killed in the firefight.
The U.K.-based humanitarian group Reprieve issued a statement Thursday saying it had “evidence that many as 23 civilians were killed in the US raid, including a newborn baby boy, and ten children.” This included the 8-year-old sister of Abdulrahman Awlaki, a 16-year-old U.S. citizen killed in a 2011 drone strike, as well as an 80-year-old man.
On Wednesday, U.S. Central Command announced that it had begun an investigation into the civilian deaths, stating:
The known possible civilian casualties appear to have been potentially caught up in aerial gunfire that was called in to assist U.S. forces in contact against a determined enemy that included armed women firing from prepared fighting positions, and U.S. special operations members receiving fire from all sides to include houses and other buildings.
This complex situation included small arms fire, hand grenades and close air support fire. Analysts are carefully assessing whether additional non-combatant civilians that were not visible to the assault force at the time were mixed in with combatants.
New reporting on the raid noted that the operation had been conceived under former President Barack Obama, but was delayed due to timing and insufficient intelligence.
According to Reuters, “One of the three U.S. officials said on-the-ground surveillance of the compound was ‘minimal, at best.'” The official said that the Obama administration decided “to leave it to the incoming administration, partly in the hope that more and better intelligence could be collected.”
As for “what went wrong,” the Times reports that al Qaeda fighters were somehow “tipped off to the stealthy advance” of the U.S. Navy SEALs who then “found themselves in a gun battle with Qaeda fighters who took up positions in other houses, a clinic, a school and a mosque, often using women and children as cover, American military officials said in interviews this week.”
“The Americans called in airstrikes from helicopter gunships and fighter aircraft that helped kill some 14 Qaeda fighters, but not before an MV-22 Osprey aircraft involved in the operation experienced a ‘hard landing,’ injuring three more American personnel on board,” the reporting continued. “The Osprey, which the Marine Corps said cost $75 million, was badly damaged and had to be destroyed by an airstrike.”
Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens succumbed to injuries sustained in the firefight, prompting Trump and daughter Ivanka to schedule a last-minute visit to the Owens family at Delaware’s Dover Air Base on Wednesday.
Despite the significant loss of life, it appears that Trump’s circle is taking steps to make it easier to approve such raids.
Flynn, according to the Times, “wants to speed the decision-making when it comes to such strikes, delegating more power to lower-level officials so that the military may respond more quickly. Indeed, the Pentagon is drafting such plans to accelerate activities against the Qaeda branch in Yemen.”
“We expect an easier approval cycle [for operations] under this administration,” an unnamed defense official told the Washington Post.
“Americans should be appalled that President Trump’’ excesses now include the death of a baby, and attacks on pregnant women and elderly people, in a country where the U.S. is not at war,” said Jennifer Gibson, head of Reprieve’s Drones and Kill List Project. “Make no mistake—secret raids that kill small children will do nothing to make Americans safer. Trump’s allies—both in the U.S., and in countries like the U.K.—must urgently persuade him to scale back on this disastrous use of his executive powers.”