Trump signed off Yemen raid despite warnings of ‘inherent risks’
Senior US military officials warned President Donald Trump, who has ducked responsibility for a botched January raid in Yemen, that there were “inherent risks” with the operation before he authorized the plan, according to a report.
The military has completed its review of the January 29 raid in al-Bayda province, which led to the death of several civilians and a Navy SEAL as well as the loss of a military aircraft worth $75 million.
Trump tried to distance himself from the raid by emphasizing that the operation had been in the works long before he took office. “This was a mission that was started before I got here,” he said in an interview with Fox News last month.
The president also blamed his “respected” generals for losing SEAL Ryan Owens.
However, several officials with knowledge of the after-action review told CNN that Trump had discussed the plan with his top military advisers a number of times.
The president, according to a White House official, first learned of the plan on January 25, days after his inauguration. The new secretary of defense, James Mattis, had already approved the military operation by the time Trump came to know of it, the official added.
Trump’s then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn, delivered the plan to the president in a written memo and the two reviewed the plan during the day, the official said.
The president then asked Flynn to arrange a meeting with Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford so he could seek their advice.
Flynn, Dunford and Mattis walked Trump through the plan and explained to the president, who has no military experience, that the mission carried risks. Trump then signed off the operation.
While some aides to former president Barack Obama dispute that the Pentagon ever approved the raid, the consensus is that Obama himself never authorized the operation, CNN said.
The Pentagon has said the raid was an intelligence gathering mission aimed at improving the US government’s understating of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has taken advantage of the chaos and breakdown of security to tighten its grip on the southern and southeastern parts of Yemen.
“Our intention here was to improve our knowledge against this threat, a threat that poses a direct threat to us here in the homeland,” US Central Command chief General Joseph Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
Votel also acknowledged that “somewhere between four and 12 casualties” resulted from the raid.
The White House has hailed the Yemen operation as a success. Democrats and other critics, however, say the raid yielded little, if any, workable intelligence.
The operation was followed by an unprecedented series of airstrikes in Yemen, involving a mix of manned and unmanned aircraft.
Officials say the Trump administration has broadened the authority for more such operations in Yemen.