Yesterday US Central Command commander, US Army general Joseph Votel, was in town to talk to the Senate Armed Service Committee and the subject of the raid on Yakla, Yemen came up. That, you’ll recall, was the January 29 raid by US Navy SEALs and some indigenous special forces on an al Qaeda encampment that resulted in the deaths of several civilians as well as the death of CPO Ryan Owens and the loss of a V-22 Osprey. This mission has been swirling in controversy for several reasons. It was the first targeted mission against al Qaeda carried out by the Trump administration; an American was killed which apparently causes a mission to be classified as a failure if you are John McCain, and there were people seeking to hang any shortcomings directly on Trump.
Via ABC News:
The top U.S. commander for the Middle East told senators Thursday that he has completed an exhaustive review of the Yemen raid that killed a Navy SEAL, and has concluded there were no lapses in judgment or decision-making surrounding the operation.
Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Central Command, said he sees no need for additional investigations into the January mission that triggered debate in Washington over what went wrong and whether important intelligence was actually gathered. It was the first military raid authorized by President Donald Trump.
Votel, who presided over an internal review, said he was “looking for information gaps where we can’t explain what happened in a particular situation or we have conflicting information between members of the organization. I am looking for indicators of incompetence or poor decision making or bad judgment throughout all this.”
In the end, he said, “I was satisfied that none of those indicators that I identified to you were present. I think we had a good understanding of exactly what happened on this objective and we’ve been able to pull lessons learned out of that, that we will apply in future operations.” He said there was no need for an additional investigation.
Votel added that he believes the U.S. gained valuable information on al-Qaida militants.
NBC has a few more details:
…”We have made a determination that we did cause civilian casualties,” said Gen. Joe Votel, who put the number at somewhere between four and 12.
“We lost a lot in this operation,” Votel said, referencing the SEAL killed, the Americans wounded, the civilians killed, and a helicopter destroyed. He added that “we did gain some valuable information that will be helpful for us. Our intention was to improve our knowledge against this threat.”
Votel took responsibility for the mission and said that he presided over an “exhaustive after-action” review that looked at it “in great detail” and he said that he is satisfied that they did not find evidence of incompetence, poor decision-making, bad judgment, information gaps, or conflicting information.
“I made the determination that there was no need for an additional investigation into this operation,” he said.
I have no doubt about any of this. SOF units don’t go on raids without solid planning and rehearsals. The leadership in those units tends to be superlative. In combat, sh** happens. As Von Moltke observed over a century ago, “No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.” You can never lose sight of the fact that a cheap bullet, fired from a cheaper gun, used by an illiterate fedayeen kills you just as dead as the highest tech weapon deployed by the best trained soldier. As Kipling wrote in Arithmetic On the Frontier: “Two thousand pounds of education; Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.” And all it takes is just a little bit of bad luck and the best planned operation can turn into a smoldering mass of liquefied #FAIL.
What was refreshing was that Votel stood up, made his case, took his licks and moved on. It is really a shame Trump couldn’t have shown more leadership and heart.