U.S. military officials revealed Wednesday that President Trump’s first covert counterterrorism operation was carried out without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations, according to reports.
As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced Al Qaeda base in Yemen defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists, according to Reuters.
The deadly raid, which left a Navy SEAL, an 8-year-old girl and several other civilians dead, was planned before the Obama administration left office on Jan. 20, but was delayed.
A Trump administration official said the operation was thoroughly vetted and that the previous defense secretary had signed off on it in January. The raid was delayed for operational reasons, the White House official said.
The pre-dawn raid Sunday was doomed nearly from the start.
The New York Times reported that the commandos knew that the mission had been somehow compromised, but they pressed on.
“They kind of knew they were screwed from the beginning,” one former SEAL Team 6 official told The Times.
A tilt-rotor MV-22 transporting SEAL team experienced a “hard landing” near the target location, and had to be intentionally destroyed.
Military officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said “a brutal firefight” broke out and took the lives of Chief Special Warfare Operator William (Ryan) Owens and at least 15 Yemeni women and children.
Some of the women were firing at the U.S. force, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.
The Pentagon directed queries about the officials’ characterization of the raid to U.S. Central Command, which pointed only to its statement on Wednesday.
“CENTCOM asks for operations we believe have a good chance for success and when we ask for authorization we certainly believe there is a chance of successful operations based on our planning,” CENTCOM spokesman Colonel John Thomas said.
“Any operation where you are going to put operators on the ground has inherent risks,” he said.
One of the dead was the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a militant killed by a 2011 U.S. drone strike.
On Wednesday night, U.S. central command said in a statement that the team conducting the inquiry had already confirmed that civilians were “likely killed” in the raid and that “casualties may include children.”
It is continuing to look into whether there “were any still-undetected civilian casualties.”
More than half a dozen militant suspects were also killed in the raid.