-OPINION (Reprinted from Feb 2, 2017)
The more we learn about last weekend’s raid by American special forces on a compound in Yemen, which killed a Navy SEAL, several al Qaeda fighters, and multiple civilians, including an 8-year-old girl who was an American citizen, the more it looks like Donald Trump authorized the raid in the first week of his presidency so he could have a feather in his cap, but now it’s starting to look more like the raid’s iffy planning will leave Trump with a big black eye. The military is now investigating the raid to determine whether noncombatants were killed (yes) and how many (????). But plenty of details are starting to come out that leave the impression that while the raid had been in the planning stages since sometime during the Obama administration, Trump went ahead and gave the order without enough information, because he wants to be a badass and — you might want to sit down — may occasionally act in a hasty, ill-thought-out manner!
First off, the basics: Joint Special Operations Command raided a village Sunday night in south-central Yemen to capture computer equipment and cell phones that could yield valuable intelligence about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; that part of the raid apparently succeeded, according to Pentagon spokespeople. But there seems to be a pretty big gap between the official story and what leakers from various sources are saying about the raid. Col. John Thomas, a spokesman for Central Command (and a person for whom junior high must also have been a living hell), said the planning for the attack had “started months before” during the Obama administration, but hadn’t been “previously approved” by the former president. And here are the read-em-carefully paragraphs from The Guardian:
Thomas said he did not know why the prior administration did not authorize the operation, but said the Obama administration had effectively exercised a “pocket veto” over it.
A former official said the operation had been reviewed several times, but the underlying intelligence was not judged strong enough to justify the risks, and the case was left to the incoming Trump administration to make its own judgment.
According to Reuters, the operation lacked key information:
U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.
As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.
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.
Official story: all operations are risky, but we were ready for all the stuff that went wrong. Leaked version: it was a cluster f-bomb from the start because the intelligence about the target wasn’t very solid.
The special operations team encountered heavy resistance, wounding three members of the team and killing one, Navy SEAL William ‘Ryan’ Owens, and the team called in airstrikes by helicopter gunships and Harrier jets. Two MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft were sent to extract the raiders, but one of them had an engine failure, resulting in a “hard landing” that injured two crew members and left the Osprey unflyable, so one of the jets destroyed it with a laser-guided bomb. Then, after everyone was out, Yemeni officials said the raid had resulted in a high number of noncombatant casualties, including several children. One of the children killed was Nawar “Nora” al-Awlaki, 8, the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the Al Qaeda leader the Obama administration killed in a drone strike in 2011 (his 16-year-old son was killed in another strike on an al Qaeda leader a week later, though he was not the target of that raid).
But we got those hard drives, and there may be something good on them. Yay?
The New York Times (which said Obama handed off the operation to Trump because “the Pentagon wanted to launch the attack on a moonless night and the next one would come after his term had ended,” a detail other reports don’t mention and the Times doesn’t source — Trump people, maybe?) reports Team Trump decided to authorize the attack at a dinner meeting attended by Trump and his best buds Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Joseph Dunford, VP Mike Pence, and national security adviser Mike Flynn. It’s not clear who advocated most strongly for the strike or whether anyone urged caution; we imagine Bannon raising his head slowly, his eyes an unnatural red, and saying thickly, “Exterminate the brutes.” You also sort of have to wonder how Jared Kushner brought his top-notch real estate developer experience to the deliberations. The tell-all memoirs to come out of this administration will undoubtedly be amazing. Or, considering how TrumpLand leaks like the hydraulic lines on a V-22 Osprey, we may get all the dinner’s details in the Washington Post by the weekend.
Now let’s stir in these factors, as highlighted by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. The Times reports,
Mr. Trump’s new national security team, led by Mr. Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a retired general with experience in counterterrorism raids, has said that it 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. [emphasis added by Drum]
Similarly, the Washington Post says:
“We expect an easier approval cycle [for operations] under this administration,” another defense official said…“We really struggled with getting the [Obama] White House comfortable with getting boots on the ground in Yemen,” the former official said. “Since the new administration has come in, the approvals [at the Pentagon] appear to have gone up.”
Says Drum, if you read between the lines in all these reports, it looks like Trump wanted action, and by god he got some action, regardless of whatever may have held back that wimp Obama. But once the operation went tits-up, military officials are going off the record and telling reporters that Trump went ahead and approved a mission with inadequate intelligence and preparation, and not enough people on the ground or in the air. Drum asks,
Is that really what happened? Or is the Pentagon throwing Trump under the bus for a failure that’s their fault? I suppose we might find out if Congress decided to investigate, but that would be out of character for them. After all, Congress rarely spends its time holding contentious hearings about missions in dangerous parts of the world that go south and get people killed. I can’t think of one recently, anyway.
Hmm. Excellent point. Where was Hillary Clinton during all this, and would we have a better understanding of what went wrong if we grilled Sidney Blumenthal? Who gave the order to stand down? What about the emails? WHAT ABOUT THE EMAILS?
Correction/Update: This piece originally attributed the Mother Jones piece to David Corn, not Kevin Drum. This has been corrected throughout, and Yr Wonkette apologizes for the brain fart that resulted in our transposing those two writers, both of whom are excellent.