Days after President Donald Trump authorized his first secret military operation—a counter-terror intelligence raid in Yemen—the Pentagon is admitting that civilians were likely killed in the firefight.
US Central Command acknowledged in a statement Wednesday night that the Seal Team 6 raid on a remote village in central Yemen on Sunday resulted in noncombatant casualties, which “may include children.”
Also killed in the operation was Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens. Three other service members were wounded. And a $75 million helicopter had to be deliberately destroyed during the mission, which, by all emerging accounts, should likely have never happened.
“Almost everything went wrong,” one US official told NBC News.
During Wednesday’s White House briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged that Trump’s first hand at Commander in Chief was not a complete success.
“You never want to call something a success, 100 percent, when someone is hurt or killed, and that was the case here,” Spicer said.
The Pentagon claimed the raid collected valuable intelligence to help “deter and prevent future terror attacks.”
Reporting from the New York Times on Wednesday, however, described a hastily approved operation that came unwound due to a “chain of mishaps and misjudgments.”
The paper noted that Trump approved the mission, flanked by his closest advisors, including son-in-law Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon. Defense Secretary James Mattis, Gen. Joseph Dunford, Vice President Mike Pence, and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn were also in attendance.
Flynn, according to the Times, has discussed speeding up approval for special operations like the raid in Yemen, “delegating more power to lower-level officials so that the military may respond more quickly.”
The target was the home of an alleged al Qaeda operative, with a trove of intelligence, including cellphones and laptops belonging to the terrorist organization. Planning for the operation had begun under the previous Obama administration, but its execution was left up to the new president.
The Special Forces team was “jinxed from the start,” the Times described. The paper added that al-Qaeda operatives had been tipped off, and fighters holed up in nearby buildings engaged Seal Team 6 in an intense 50-minute firefight. An MV-22 Osprey aircraft experienced a “hard landing” and had to later be destroyed in an airstrike.
Reuters reported, based on official sources, that “Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations.”
The carnage left nearly an entire village destroyed, and according to local accounts, resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians.
Nasser al-Awlaki, the former Yemeni Agriculture Minister, told NBC News that his granddaughter, 8-year-old Nawar al-Awlaki, was killed in the raid.
Nawar’s father, US-born Anwar al-Awlaki, a former radical cleric, was killed by a targeted drone strike carried out during the Obama administration, in 2011. Her brother, 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, also an American citizen, was then killed two weeks later in an airstrike also approved by former President Obama.
Nasser al-Awlaki told NBC that his granddaughter “was staying for a while with her mother, so when the attack came, they were sitting in the house, and a bullet struck her in her neck at 2:30 past midnight.”
“Other children in the same house were killed,” he added.
Al-Awlaki also said that the Seal Team “entered another house and killed everybody in it, including all the women. They burned the house. There is an assumption there was a woman [in the house] from Saudi Arabia who was with al Qaeda. All we know is that she was a children’s teacher.”
Yemen’s foreign minister, Abdul Malik Al Mekhlafi, used his official Twitter account, on Monday, to allege that US forces committed “extrajudicial killings.”
In its statement Wednesday, the Defense Department claimed that women had taken up arms against the US commandos during the raid, and that the civilians were likely killed from aerial gunfire that was called in to assist the US forces.
“Analysts are carefully assessing whether additional noncombatant civilians that were not visible to the assault force at the time were mixed in with combatants,” US Central Command stated.
Sunday’s operation was the first known American ground assault on Yemeni soil since December 2014, following a botched hostage rescue mission in the southern part of the country.