Five days after taking the oath of office, President Donald Trump dined with some members of his national security team. During the meal, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford roughly outlined a plan for a risky counterterrorism raid in Yemen targeting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula—the terrorist group’s most dangerous local affiliate.
In previous administrations, multiple levels of subordinates would have vetted this sort of mission before it was briefed to the president in the White House Situation Room with the full national security team present. Mattis and Dunford’s presentation to Trump was much more informal, but the new president nevertheless gave his conditional go-ahead. Then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn convinced Trump to sign off the following morning, saying the audacious raid would distinguish him from his more deliberative predecessor.
Members of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6 and special forces from the United Arab Emirates were soon advancing on the compound in Yemen’s al-Bayda province. But AQAP militants detected their presence, and an intense firefight broke out. Chief Petty Officer William Ryan Owens, a longtime member of SEAL Team 6, was killed. Another five special operators were injured. One of two Marine Corps Osprey aircraft dispatched to provide air support crashed and was destroyed by U.S. forces to prevent any sensitive equipment from falling into Al Qaeda hands. At least 16 Yemeni civilians, most of them children, were killed.
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