Trump Exploits Widow's Anguish to Mask His Disastrous Yemen Raid
March 2, 2017
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Cynthia McFadden, William M. Arkin and Ken Dilanian / NBC News
The Trump Administration's decision to continue hyping a failed Yemeni raid, despite all evidence to the contrary, as having netted a trove of intelligence continues to blow up in their face tonight, as Pentagon officials once again affirmed that the information gathered was minimal, and things they already knew about. Questions continue to swirl around an operation in which the Navy SEALs lost the element of surprise and quickly found themselves in a major firefight and wound up killing women and 9 children.
No Actionable Intelligence From Yemen Raid
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(March 1, 2017) -- The Trump Administration's decision to continue hyping a failed Yemeni raid, despite all evidence to the contrary, as having netted a trove of intelligence continues to blow up in their face tonight, as Pentagon officials once again affirmed that the information gathered was minimal, and things they already knew about.
Some equipment was recovered giving them some insight into tactics, but so far none of the laptops and cellphones seized has any useful information on it.
This is in keeping with what other US officials said just two days prior, that no "actionable" intelligence was gathered in the raid, but is in direct contradiction to claims by President Trump last night at the Congressional address, and Vice President Mike Pence today, that "significant" intelligence was obtained.
Nawar Anwar al-Awlaki, 8, was killed in an airstrike in Yemen ordered by President Donald Trump. Yemeni media / via Twitter
The first major foreign military operation on his term, President Trump has invested a lot of effort into portraying the operation as an unquestioned success. Repeated concessions from the military that there were myriad problems, and things didn't go nearly as well as intended, have all been dismissed, with Trump continuing on with the success claims.
That we never really get good information on what the source of intelligence is for future raids means it's likely impossible to ever conclusively prove no actionable intelligence came from Yemen, though the fact that the Pentagon keeps saying this is the case certainly lends credence to the idea that the operation, on top of all of its other failures, didn’t accomplish anything intelligence-wise.
Officials: Still No Actionable
Intel from Yemen SEAL Raid
Cynthia McFadden, William M. Arkin and Ken Dilanian / NBC News
(March 1 2017) -- The Pentagon says Navy SEALs scooped up laptops, hard drives and cell phones in last month's Yemen raid, but multiple US officials told NBC News that none of the intelligence gleaned from the operation so far has proven actionable or vital -- contrary to what President Trump said in his speech to Congress Tuesday.
In a dramatic moment before a joint session of Congress, Trump introduced Carryn Owens, the widow of Senior Chief William "Ryan" Owens, the SEAL who lost his life in the Jan. 29 operation. Tears streamed down the widow's face as the president praised her husband.
"I just spoke to General (James) Mattis," Trump said, referring to his defense secretary, "who reconfirmed that, and I quote, 'Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.'"
No one questions Owens' heroism and sacrifice. Ten current US officials across the government who have been briefed on the details of the raid told NBC News that so far, no truly significant intelligence has emerged from the haul.
The Associated Press quoted a senior US official as describing a three-page list of information gathered from the compound, including information on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's training techniques and targeting priorities. Pentagon officials confirmed that to NBC News, but other US officials said the information on that list was neither actionable nor vital.
One senior Pentagon official described the information gathered as "de minimis," and as material the US already knew about.
However, another US official said the information contained hundreds of contact details from a variety of communications apps, suggesting possible links to the Europe and the US
Questions continue to swirl around an operation in which the Navy SEALs lost the element of surprise and quickly found themselves in a major firefight.
The raid had first been proposed to the Obama administration, where officials viewed it as a significant -- and risky -- escalation. They decided to leave the decision about whether to launch to the Trump administration.
Owens' father, Bill, has questioned what was gained by putting US boots on the ground in Yemen, and called for an investigation.
Some officials have said the most prominent Yemeni killed in the raid was Sheikh Abdel-Raouf al-Dhahab, who the Yemenis call a tribal leader, but the US considered a terrorist. He was not a particularly valuable target, US officials said, but they hoped intelligence at the site could lead them to other targets.
The military is conducting after-action reviews, and officials continue to examine the seized material.
"It's too soon to determine exactly what information has been gotten on this raid," said Ret. Army Col. Jack Jacobs, a Medal of Honor recipient and NBC News military analyst. "Invariably, the military does a thorough investigation of everything from start to finish, and in good time we'll hear how successful it really was."
SEAL, American Girl Die in
First Trump-Era US Military Raid
Robert Windrem, William M. Arkin, Courtney Kube and Charlene Gubash / NBC Nightly News
(January 31 2017) -- In what an official said was the first military raid carried out under President Donald Trump, two Americans were killed in Yemen on Sunday -- one a member of SEAL Team 6 and the other the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico-born al Qaeda leader who himself was killed in a US strike five years ago.
The raid in southern Yemen, conducted by the supersecret Joint Special Operations Command, was intended to capture valuable intelligence, specifically computer equipment, according to a senior US military official. Three al Qaeda leaders were killed, according to US officials.
Contrary to earlier reporting, the senior military official said, the raid was Trump's first clandestine strike -- not a holdover mission approved by President Barack Obama. The mission involved "boots on the ground" at an al Qaeda camp near al Bayda in south central Yemen, the official said.
"Almost everything went wrong," the official said.
An MV-22 Osprey experienced a hard landing near the site, injuring several SEALs, one severely. The tilt-rotor aircraft had to be destroyed. A SEAL was killed during the firefight on the ground, as were some noncombatants, including females.
Defense Secretary James Mattis had to leave one of Washington's biggest annual social events, the Alfalfa Club Dinner, to deal with the repercussions, according to the official. He did not return.
On Monday, he released a statement identifying the dead SEAL as Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens and said, "Ryan gave his full measure for our nation, and in performing his duty, he upheld the noblest standard of military service."
The senior military official said the 8-year-old girl, Nawar al-Awlaki, also known as Nora, was among the noncombatants killed in the raid, which also resulted in the death of several Yemeni women. US officials said some of the women who were killed, however, were combatants and had opened fire on the SEALs as they approached the al Qaeda camp.
The girl's grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, Yemen's former agriculture minister, told NBC News a different story. He identified his granddaughter as the dead girl from a photo taken at the scene of the raid but based his description on what happened at the camp on conversations with what he characterized as Yemeni sources.
"My 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," al-Awlaki said. He said the girl died two hours after being shot.
"They [the SEALs] 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."
Al-Awlaki said the girl and her mother had fled the Yemeni capital, Sa'ana, where he lives, to escape the heavy shelling.
The child's mother, Anwar al-Awlaki's widow, survived the raid with a minor wound, according to Nasser al-Awlaki. However, Anwar al-Awlaki's brother-in-law was killed in the raid. The death toll varies according to the sourcing, with the Pentagon saying 14 militants died, along with "numerous" civilians. Nasser al-Awlaki said Yemenis were circulating a body count of combatants and civilians as high as 59.
In explaining the attack, the senior US military official told NBC News: "Al Qaeda is probably stronger in Yemen than in any other country. The US has mounted in intense effort for the past three years from ship, air and drone to go after a reconstituting core al Qaeda organization in Yemen."
The raid, said the official, was directed from a US base in Djibouti, across the Gulf of Aden from the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula and the western edge of Yemen. Officially, the United States was searching for "information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots."
Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham University's Center on National Security, said the girl's death will be a boon to al Qaeda propagandists.
"The perception will be that it's not enough to kill al-Awlaki -- that the US had to kill the entire family," she said.
Nawar's father, Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a drone on Sept. 30, 2011, not far from Sunday's raid. The US Justice Department had approved killing him in a memorandum that was disclosed in 2014. The memo concluded, "We do not believe that al-Awlaki's US citizenship imposes constitutional limitations that would preclude the contemplated lethal action" by the US military or the CIA.
Al-Awlaki, who was born while his father was a graduate student in the United States, moved to Yemen and became a prodigious propagandist who, the United States said in the memo, had played "operational and leadership roles" with al Qaeda and "continues to plot attacks intended to kill Americans."
US intelligence also believed al-Awlaki was a potential successor to Osama Bin Laden, who had been killed six months earlier.
Nawar al-Awlaki is the second of Anwar al-Awlaki's children to be killed by US forces. Two weeks after Anwar was killed in late 2011, his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was also struck in a drone strike. US officials said the younger al-Awlaki was in the wrong place at the wrong time -- that he was with their intended target, an al Qaeda leader.
Intentional or not, Greenberg said, the deaths of three al-Awlaki family members will enhance the al Qaeda narrative. She noted that as part of propaganda efforts, terrorist groups have begun to circulate photographs of children reputedly killed by US forces. Photos of Nawar al-Awlaki alive and dead are already circulating widely in Arab media.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released a statement via online jihadi media referring to the raid as a "massacre," said US troops had fired on women and children "in cold blood," and accused the SEALs of having "no human values."
Rima Abdelkader contributed to this report.
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