The weekend raid by SEAL Team 6 against the home of a suspected al-Qaeda collaborator in Yemen is facing mounting criticism both domestically and internationally, as even the Pentagon concedes that there were civilians deaths in the attack, which ended up destroying nearly an entire village.
The White House, however, shrugged off questions, insisting that the raid was a “success by all standards.” White House spokesman Sean Spicer claimed the toll was low compared to the hypothetical toll “throughout America and institutions and in terms of the world” if they hadn’t launched the attack.
This direct, albeit puzzling, defense of the operation is something the Pentagon no longer appears willing to do, with officials increasingly reluctant to discuss the operation at all, referring to previous statements now long-since obsolete because of previous comments by other officials, who conceded that the raid was approved “without sufficient intelligence,” and that seemingly everything that could have gone wrong did.
The same raid had reportedly been proposed to the Obama Administration and they deferred to Trump. The Pentagon was keen to do the raid on a moonless night to have the element of surprise, but the large US drone presence over the village tipped off the raid long before ground troops arrived and gave locals a chance to organize substantial resistance.
On Sunday, the Pentagon had claimed 14 “al-Qaeda combatants” killed and no civilians in the fight, though later officials reported anonymously that they believed at least 15 women and children were also killed. Local offiicals have put the overall death toll around 57, and among the children slain was an eight-year-old American girl, the daughter of US-born cleric Anwar Awlaki.
Indeed, despite initially presenting the attack as targeting “al-Qaeda headquarters,” officials have since admitted it was the house of a long “suspected collaborator,” apparently one of Awlaki’s in-laws. When presented with more resistance than they expected, the SEALs called in airstrikes and helicopter gunships, which quickly spread the fight around the entire village, destroying a number of buildings and killing a lot of bystanders.
Officials had also initially sought to hype the intelligence gathered from the village’s ruins, which has since been defined down to a laptop and a few thumb drives. Though some in the administration appear hopeful this will still vindicate the attack, given the nature of the target the early predictions of a bin Laden-level trove of intelligence appears wishful thinking.