LATEST: Trump was ‘in residence’ at the White House not in Situation Room during raid. More below...
The first covert counter-terrorism operation authorised by President Trump killed at least 10 women and children and was ordered without sufficient planning and intelligence, according to reports.
An elite US Navy SEAL team attacked a branch of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) on Sunday resulting in the deaths of 14 militants and one US commando, Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, 36, according to the Pentagon.
Medics on the ground after the attack say around 30 people were killed including at least 10 women and children, Reuters reported.
US Central Command said in a statement on Wednesday that an investigating team had “concluded regrettably that civilian non-combatants were likely killed”.
US military officials told Reuters that Donald 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.
In a press conference at the White House today, Press Secretary Sean Spicer disclosed that Trump was not in the Situation Room when the raid took place.
“The President was here in the residence. He was kept in touch with his national security staff. Secretary Mattis and others had kept him updated on both the raid and the death of Chief Owens, as well as the four other individuals that were injured. So he was kept apprised of the situation throughout the evening.”
As Sunday’s firefight intensified, the raiders called in Marine helicopter gunships and Harrier jump jets, and then two MV-22 Osprey vertical takeoff and landing aircraft to extract the SEALs.
One of the two suffered engine failure, two of the officials said, and hit the ground so hard that two crew members were injured, and one of the Marine jets had to launch a precision-guided bomb to destroy it.
Officials said the extremists’ base had been identified as a target before the Obama administration left office on January 20, but then-President Barack Obama held off approving a raid ahead of his departure.
A White House official said the operation was thoroughly vetted by the previous administration and the previous defence secretary had signed off on it in January.
The raid was delayed for operational reasons, the White House official said.
“The decision was made ... to leave it to the incoming administration, partly in the hope that more and better intelligence could be collected,” one of the three US officials said.
He added that on-the-ground surveillance of the compound was “minimal, at best”.
Military officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said “a brutal firefight” killed Owens and at least 15 Yemeni women and children. One of the dead was the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a militant killed by a 2011 US drone strike.
The exact number of women and children killed has not been confirmed.
The American elite forces did not seize any militants or take any prisoners offsite, but White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Wednesday the raid yielded benefits.
“Knowing that we killed an estimated 14 AQAP members and that we gathered an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil – is something that I think most service members understand, that’s why they joined the service,” Spicer said.
Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Wednesday in an unexpected visit to meet the family of Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, 36, who died in the raid.