Remember how Donald Trump was going to make sure that America’s fight against terrorism would get a lot smarter and better and winning-er, because under Barack Obama the war on terror was just terrible? In his inaugural address, Trump even said the magic words “radical Islamic terrorism,” which should have automatically ensured that we would win every engagement. Oddly, that seems not to have been the case in Sunday’s raid on an al Qaeda camp in Yemen, during which an American SEAL was killed along with dozens of civilians, including an 8-year-old girl, the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the Al Qaeda leader killed in a drone strike in 2011.
The raid was intended to seize computer equipment from the terrorist network al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and according to a “senior U.S. military official” who spoke to NBC News, the operation was not a leftover mission from Barack Obama’s administration, but was in fact the first clandestine strike authorized by President Trump. Despite Trump’s absolute certainty that he would be a much smarter, better Commander in Chief than Obama, the raid was subject to all the mistakes and uncertainties of any military operation, and as the official told NBC, “Almost everything went wrong.” Since the fog of war only happens to other, inferior leaders, we’re sure Trump will eventually find a way to blame Obama for the mistakes.
Or maybe he’ll just hope nobody pays attention, since his administration has plenty of monumental domestic fuckups to occupy the press right now, and the last we’ll hear about the raid will be Sean Spicer’s assertion on CNN this weekend that “we carried out a very successful raid against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which resulted in the death of an estimate 14 AQAP members and the capture of important intelligence that will better enable us to counter and prevent future terrorist plots.” Spicer offered thoughts and prayers for the family of the “fallen American hero” — later identified as Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens — and took credit for the deaths of the terrorists, but conveniently forgot to mention the civilian casualties.
If you’re looking for more operational details of what went wrong, both the NBC story and the Military Times have plenty; in addition to the death of Owens, six Americans were injured, and the force lost a $70 million MV-22 Osprey in a “hard landing”; after the tilt-rotor aircraft was determined to be unflyable, it was destroyed by a follow-up U.S. airstrike. We’re going to focus instead on all those civilian casualties which were not supposed to happen, starting with an eight-year-old American citizen, Nawar al-Awlaki, who was also known as Nora. So far, it would appear a lot of American kids — at least two so far — are getting caught in the way of Trump’s winning against Islamic Terror. Here are the details from NBC News, which notes its source said the civilian deaths were unintentional:
The girl’s grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, Yemen’s former agriculture minister, told NBC News a different story. He identified his granddaughter as the dead girl from a photo taken at the scene of the raid but based his description on what happened at the camp on conversations with what he characterized as Yemeni sources.
“My granddaughter was staying for a while with her mother, so when the attack came, they were sitting in the house, and a bullet struck her in her neck at 2:30 past midnight. Other children in the same house were killed,” al-Awlaki said. He said the girl died two hours after being shot.
“They [the SEALs] entered another house and killed everybody in it, including all the women. They burned the house. There is an assumption there was a woman [in the house] from Saudi Arabia who was with al Qaeda. All we know is that she was a children’s teacher.”
Al-Awlaki said the girl and her mother had fled the Yemeni capital, Sa’ana, where he lives, to escape the heavy shelling.
The Pentagon says only that “numerous” civilians were killed, while NBC reports Yemeni officials said as many as 59 fighters and civilians were killed in the raid.
The civilian casualties — like the Trump administration’s travel ban — is likely to turn into terrific propaganda for terrorists, since local populations simply don’t understand that to make America safe, we have to kill as many bad guys as possible, and if some civilians get in the way, that’s just how it goes.
Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham University’s Center on National Security, said the girl’s death will be a boon to al Qaeda propagandists.
“The perception will be that it’s not enough to kill al-Awlaki — that the U.S. had to kill the entire family,” she said.
Nora is the second of Anwar Al Awlaki’s children to be killed in a U.S. raid; two weeks after the 2011 drone strike that killed the American-born Al Qaeda leader, his 16-year-ld son Abdulrahman was also killed in a drone strike, although U.S. officials say he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time; the actual target of that strike was another al Qaeda leader. But even if both children were “collateral damage,” Ms. Greenberg says the death of Nora al-Awlaki is likely to play into AQAP’s propaganda:
She noted that as part of propaganda efforts, terrorist groups have begun to circulate photographs of children reputedly killed by U.S. forces. Photos of Nawar al-Awlaki alive and dead are already circulating widely in Arab media.
According to the New York Times, a Defense Department spokesman said the raid resulted in “valuable captured materials from the site that will help us gain a deep insight into the planning to help prevent terror attacks,” so that probably makes the civilian casualties OK. A Yemeni official put the number of children killed in the raid at seven, ranging in age from three to 13. The Times cited American military officials who blame terrorist groups “for putting family members, including women and children, at risk by sheltering them in compounds or bunkers that are the targets of airstrikes or commando raids.”
The Pentagon says it goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, even cancelling raids or drone strikes if military planners believe there’s too high a risk of civilian deaths. If there ever is an investigation of this raid — as some human rights groups have called for — one question that should probably be looked at is whether President Trump authorized it even though there was a high chance of civilian deaths. We’re only asking. After all, this is the guy who said we need to “take out” terrorists’ families. If we were real White House reporters, we’d ask if the Trump administration has changed the rules of engagement or the assessment of possible risk to civilians in raids. Not that anyone’s getting too het up about some civilian casualties. Americans were good with drone strikes on wedding parties in Afghanistan, so we’ll probably be happy with more terrorists’ kids getting accidentally shot through the neck, too.
We’re so sick of winning already.