So far, no “significant intelligence” has been gleaned from the items seized in the raid, “multiple” senior sources have told NBC, the network reported Tuesday.
The raid — an unusual use of American ground forces in the country — was supposed to surprise the enemy, but the Navy SEAL team dispatched to the site Jan. 28 confronted a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger-than-expected contingent of heavily armed extremists.
President Donald Trump was apparently not in the Situation Room supervising the action as would be typical for a commander in chief in such an operation. While the raid was unfolding, Trump’s personal Twitter account was active and a tweet was sent notifying readers about an upcoming presidential TV, The Huffington Post reported Wednesday. That tweet has since been deleted.
The Trump administration is characterizing the operation primarily as a mission to gather intelligence on al Qaeda, and considers it “highly successful,” according to White House press Secretary Sean Spicer. “We gathered an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil,” Spicer said Feb. 8. The Pentagon has also said the raid produced “actionable intelligence.”
Spicer said Monday that the Navy Seal who lost his life in the raid, Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens,” died a hero and the information that he was able to help obtain through that raid ... is going to save American lives.”
But NBC’s sources said they have seen no evidence that supports Spicer’s claim.
Earlier reports, backed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), had said that the main goal of the operation was to capture or kill extremist leaders. One of the targets was reportedly Qasim al-Raymi, a leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but he was apparently unharmed.
Bill Owens, the father of the fallen Navy Seal, has called the raid a “stupid mission” and demanded an investigation into the operation. He refused to meet with Trump when the two men were on the scene when Ryan Owens’ body was taken off the plane at Dover Air Force Base.
“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into [Trump’s] administration?” Owens said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen — everything was missiles and drones because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?’’
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, Commander of U.S. Central Command, defended the raid, telling CBS News that it was part of the “broader offensive that we’re pursuing in Yemen.” He said that the object was to go in and collect intelligence. “We accomplished that,” he added. Votel did not describe the nature or amount of the intelligence gathered.
The raid was planned during the previous administration, but former President Barack Obama had not yet signed off on it.
At least 25 civilians were killed in the raid, including nine children under the age of 13, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The Pentagon is conducting an investigation into the raid, which is standard procedure when any lives are lost, according to Spicer.