White House officials on Thursday pushed back on reports that hasty planning may have resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL in last weekend’s assault on an al-Qaida facility in Yemen, saying the mission has been under consideration since last fall.
Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens was killed and three other U.S. servicemembers wounded in a firefight with militants at the compound. Pentagon officials said 14 militants were killed in the assault, but local authorities said the casualties also included a number of other women and children.
The military mission was the first authorized by President Donald Trump, who traveled to Delaware on Wednesday to witness the return of Owens’ body to American soil.
Numerous news outlets have cited military sources calling the raid a poorly-planned tragedy, detailing the crash of a V-22 Osprey aircraft and a 50-minute firefight with enemy fighters after the commando team lost the element of surprise.
But White House Spokesman Sean Spicer said the timeline for planning the raid dates back almost three months, to the end of President Barack Obama’s administration.
“Not only was it a very thought out process by this administration, it had started back in November,” he told reporters on Thursday. “This was a well thought out and executed effort.”
Spicer said numerous Obama and Trump administration officials — including Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford — reviewed and approved of the mission before Trump signed the final orders.
He also indicated that Obama administration officials would have gone ahead with the mission if not for strategic timing decisions. The mission was launched on Jan. 29 because it was “a moonless night,” offering more potential cover for U.S. forces.
Trump was updated periodically as the raid progressed, and was quickly informed of Owens’ death.
Despite the loss and setbacks, Spicer still classified the mission as a success.
“It’s hard to ever call something a complete success when you have a loss of life or people injured,” he said. “But when you look at the totality of what was gained to prevent the future loss of life here in America and against our people and our institutions, I think it was a successful operation by all standards.”
Spicer also hailed Owens, a 36-year-old on his 12th deployment overseas, as a hero who “died in sacrifice for someone else here in this nation.”
Earlier in the week, Trump released a statement calling the mission a key intelligence victory “that will assist the U.S. in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world.”
Navy officials announced Thursday that Owens was posthumously advanced to senior chief petty officer.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.