The White House is spinning like a hamster wheel being driven by a rodent on crack. The raid more than a week ago in Yemen that left a Navy SEAL Petty Officer dead is being touted as a “success:
White House spokesman Sean Spicer called the raid “successful … by all standards.” The Pentagon said U.S. forces captured “materials and information that is yielding valuable intelligence.”
That led Senator John McCain to push back claiming it was a failure:
Sen. John McCain, chair of the Armed Services Committee, called the recent US raid in Yemen a “failure” following a classified briefing Tuesday morning on the operation, which ended in the death of a Navy SEAL and an unconfirmed number of civilians.
McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill that the military’s decision, as has been publicly reported, to continue the mission despite “significant opposition” and the enemy being tipped off “was one of the aspects of this that made it — turned it into a failure.”
McCain’s characterization of the raid, which also reportedly claimed the lives of 14 members of al-Qaeda and an unconfirmed number of civilians — including an 8-year-old girl, according to NBC — stands in stark contrast to that of the White House, which is calling the operation a success.
I am not a McCain fan by any stretch but he was right on this. After carefully reading the public accounts of this raid it is pretty clear that there was a failure in the chain of command to insist on adequate intel and a properly vetted plan. While Sean Spicer insists that the purpose of the raid was to “collect intel,” that is wrong. Killing Qasim Al-Raymi was the goal:
The US raid in Yemen in January was at eliminating or capturing A-Qaeda head in the AQAP, Qassim Al-Raymi, according to military officials.
On January 29 US Special Forces made Navy SEAL Team 6 and Emirati commandos launched a well-planned raid in Yemen killing killing 14 al-Qaeda militants as well as civilians, including the daughter of previously assassinated al-Qaeda leader Anwar Awlaki.
The unnamed military officials are spinning. This was not a “well-planned raid.” One old friend described it as a Charlie Foxtrot (aka Cluster F**k). The details leaked to the press do not make a lot of sense. NBC got an “insider” account from someone in the Trump Administration:
Early Sunday, SEALS from SEAL Team 6 and Emirati commandos converged on a landing zone eight kilometers from the village, according to the briefing paper and a senior military official. Their target was the heavily guarded house where AQAP leaders were temporarily living, reportedly with computer and communications equipment of value to the ongoing campaign.
They walked around five miles to their objective.
Then, said officials, something tipped the targets off to their approach. Depending on the account, it might have been a barking dog, or Emiratis intercepted speaking in Arabic on walkie talkies, or the crash of a small Emirati drone surveying the target from a forward position.
If that account is true, then the mission was borderline insane. I don’t care how good you think Navy SEALs are in terms of physical conditioning, but trekking five miles in the dark carrying ammo and weapons (let’s assume they did not have any other equipment) is not a fun run. It will take a minimum of 90 minutes and more likely two hours. And I am going with the assumption that this was relatively flat terrain. It they were moving through the mountains (in other words, climbing and descending) the time required to cover such a distance would increase to as much as three hours.
The ability of the SEALS to move quickly also was probably constrained by the UAE commandos who were with them. Let me repeat that–they were reportedly doing this op with “commandos from the United Arab Emirates.” WHAT?? What the hell are UAE troops doing in Yemen? Ignore that last question for the moment and simply reflect on the fact that UAE commandos are slower and far less competent than U.S. Navy SEALS. This makes no sense. The attack was in Yemen not the UAE. I can understand including a Yemeni troop or two in the operation because you want someone who is familiar with the area and someone who speaks the language and someone who knows the culture. But mixing troops from a third country in with with a US SOF unit on a night time raid is a recipe for disaster.
I know. I will be accused of Monday morning quarterbacking. Well, let me simply say that these are problems that even Helen Keller could see in a dark room. For example, the NBC article insists that U.S. intel collection on the site had been underway for a while:
Planning was intense, with almost three months of intelligence collection — including “pattern of life” constant surveillance of the target home and the families in nearby dwellings.
You read that sentence and can only conclude that robust intel collection had been underway for weeks. “Pattern of life” aka POL is a standard intel procedure for gathering information on a target. What does that mean in practice? You want to know how many people live in the house. You want to know what time they get up and what time they go to bed. You want to know how many visitors they have and where those visitors come from. You want to know if they have indoor plumbing or are shitting behind a boulder and wiping their asses with sand. Do they have animals? What kind? How many?
Get the picture? You would think that after almost three months of watching the place that we would know exactly what we were up against. Think again. Notwithstanding the claim that there was a full blown POL, the NBC article contradicts itself by noting:
“There were a lot of female combatants who were part of this,” said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, on Monday. “We saw during this operation, as it was taking place, that female fighters ran to pre-established positions — as though they had trained to be ready, and trained to be combatants — and engaged with us.”
Excuse me. If you really had a full POL then you would have seen such training taking place (remember, we’re talking almost three months of “watching”) and would have been prepared to engage the lady jihadis. Something very wrong here. Either the guys doing the POL screwed up and did not see the training of the jihadi women or they saw it and ignored it or they did not do real POL. It can only be one of the three. My point is that our fighting sailors should not have been surprised if they actually been given a proper brief based on a full POL. At a minimum, if they had genuine overhead imagery they should have been able to pick out and identify the “pre-established fighting positions.”
It sure looks like that someone in the chain of command needs to be fired. This was not the fault of the SEALS who carried out the attack. They were told they had a Reuben sandwich but it turned out to be filled with shit and then were instructed to eat it. Someone needs to make this clear to Donald Trump. He signed off on an unnecessary, stupid operation. This is a definite stain on National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. He had enough experience at JSOC under Stan McChrystal that he should know better and should have thrown the penalty flag.
The bright side? Only one SEAL died. From the sounds of it, this could have been far worse. I caveat this piece by noting that I am basing this analysis on the premise that the NBC account is close to accurate. If this is comparable to what was briefed to McCain the other day then I can only say that McCain failed in his duty to call publicly for the decision makers who put this op together or signed off on it to be held accountable, i.e. fired.