Lessons and Propaganda from the Botched Raid on Yemen

Nora al-Awlaki, 8 years old, killed in the Yemen raid

W.J. Astore

The Trump administration’s first “kinetic” military action, last weekend’s raid on Yemen that killed a Navy SEAL as well as fifteen women and children, was an operational failure. Aggravating that failure has been the aggressive propaganda spin applied by the White House. According to White House spokesman Sean Spicer, the operation was a major success:

“Knowing that we killed an estimated 14 AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] members and that we gathered an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil – is something that I think most service members understand, that that’s why they joined the service.”

Later, Spicer doubled down, accusing Senator John McCain (and other critics of the raid) of defaming the dead Navy SEAL when he suggested the raid had been something less than a towering success. McCain, Spicer said, owed the dead SEAL an apology.

Trump himself then joined the fray, accusing John McCain in a tweet of emboldening the enemy and suggesting he’d “been losing so long he doesn’t know how to win anymore.”

Yet, by Spicer’s logic, President Trump himself owes an apology to all U.S. troops killed in the Iraq and Afghan wars, since Trump has criticized these wars as either unnecessary or botched in execution. Recall here that Trump said he was against the Iraq invasion in 2003, but once the U.S. invaded, he said the U.S. government botched it by not taking Iraq’s oil, which, he claimed, would have prevented the rise of ISIS.

The Iraq war, Trump has said, was a mistake, a failure, a loss.  He promised to show America how to “win” again.  Is the recent Yemen raid what he meant by a “win”?


Nearly everything went wrong in the Yemen raid.  Surprise wasn’t achieved.  U.S. troops were killed and wounded.  Far too many non-combatants (innocent civilians) were killed, including an eight-year-old girl.  A $75 million Osprey malfunctioned and had to be destroyed.

To hazard a guess, this raid probably cost the U.S. in the neighborhood of $250 million while failing to achieve its main objective.  Meanwhile, the enemy put up fierce resistance with weaponry, mainly small arms and explosives, that probably cost less than $100,000.

In brief, the U.S. raid on Yemen was prodigal in cost, profligate in resources, and unproductive in results.

Of course, I can’t say for certain that the raid didn’t secure vital intelligence.  According to Spicer, an “unbelievable” amount of intelligence was seized.  But early signs are unpromising.  The U.S. military chose to share, in the immediate aftermath of the raid, a video of bomb-making training by al-Qaeda (apparently from a seized laptop), only to remove it when they learned the training video was a decade old and readily available on YouTube.  Some intelligence coup!

The Trump administration is promising to launch more raids, featuring an “easier approval cycle” than witnessed under President Obama.  Indeed, some reports suggest President Trump was goaded into approving the Yemen raid by being told his predecessor wouldn’t have approved it.

If the Yemen raid is the new face of “winning” under Trump, America may yet long for the days of “losing” under previous presidents.


22 thoughts on “Lessons and Propaganda from the Botched Raid on Yemen

  1. (1) “An ‘unbelievable’ amount of intelligence”? Yes, indeed. I don’t believe it. Not for a moment.

    (2) As for the U.S. military “winning” anything of note, I can only recite from memory one of our enlisted-man’s slogans from the U.S. War on Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos): “We lost the day we started and we win the day we stop.” As a matter of fact and history, the U.S. military will “win” a war again — as it hasn’t done since 1945 (Panama and Grenada excepted) — the day it stops one of the many wars it has stupidly already lost by starting. The U.S. military hasn’t got the faintest idea what “winning” and “losing” mean. Ditto for “intelligence.” As the wise old saying goes: “Military intelligence is to intelligence as military music is to music.”

    (3) For an expanded treatment of the real “why” and “wherefore” of America’s pimped-out (by their own U.S. President) military assassins doing Saudi Arabia’s and the United Arab Emirates’ (conflicting) dirty work in different countries, see the blogger Moon of Alabama‘s article Its Foreign Greed And Delusion That Kills Yemeni Children.

    The real kicker here involves yet another bloody intramural squabble — in Yemen as well as in Syria — between the Pentagon and CIA. Who gets to kill in secret (and off budget) and who has to kill and die in public and on the record? The Pentagram quite obviously wants to get in on the “secret war” thing, which the CIA has no intention of allowing.

    “The raid in Yemen was carried out by the Pentagon, not by the CIA. The U.S. special forces were accompanied by UAE forces. After the raid al-Qaeda in Yemen retook three southern towns and is again threatening the UAE controlled port cities.

    “… In the war on Yemen the Pentagon is mainly allied with UAE and supports its plans for southern Yemen. The CIA is mainly allied with the Saudis, supports their plans, and condones their alliance with al-Qaeda. The main target of the U.S. military raid was warned by the Saudis and escaped. The necessary information came from CIA channels.

    “A similar split between the CIA, which supports Jihadis like al-Qaeda, and the Pentagon, which has to fight them, occurred in Syria. The CIA provided weapons, paid by the Saudis, to various militant Islamist groups which the Pentagon knows it will later have to fight.The Pentagon tried to sabotage those CIA operations.

    This conflict is between U.S. Budget Title 10 (the Pentagon) and U.S. Budget Title 50 (the Intelligence Services/the CIA) which has been waged for years. The responsibilities and authorities under these titles are disputed and discussed over and over again. Has the CIA the lead in special operations or the Pentagon? Who will be able to claim the victories and who can be blamed for the losses?

    Then, to add insult to injury …

    “Yesterday the New York Times editors, again drunk on cool aid, revealed their self-delusions to the world:

    ‘At least in recent decades, American presidents who took military action have been driven by the desire to promote freedom and democracy’, …

    Oh, please! Cannot we just for once dispense with all the sanctimonious bullshit?

    “That lie will surely be solace for the relatives of the kids killed in the special force raid in Yemen which was planned and ordered by two U.S. presidents. It will nourish the millions of children who hunger and ten-thousands who die in Yemen due to lack of food. Freedom and democracy will be valued by those dying from U.S. bombs dropped from U.S. built planes by U.S. trained Saudi pilots with the help of U.S. intelligence. The new U.S. administration plans to double down on such support.”

    Former U.S. President (and Nobel Peace Laureate) Barak Obama once boasted to his aides and associates: “I’ve gotten really good at killing people.” Well, it looks like his successor, President Donald Trump has started off his administration by demonstrating how really bad he has gotten at it in only his first three weeks. This all reminds me of President John F. Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs, not to mention President Jimmy Carter and the failed U.S. hostage rescue mission in Iran, not to mention President Ronald Reagan getting 241 Marines killed “taking the low ground” at the Beirut Airport. Once you let the U.S. military get involved in America’s foreign policy, you’ve got one disaster after another coming — guaranteed. In my lifetime, U.S. presidents have seemed congenitally unable to read just a little history so as to understand this profound and eternal truth. As George Clemenceau spoke for the ages: “War is too serious a business to be left to military men.”

    Not that our latest and lamest Commander-in-Brief, President Donald Trump, would know any of this. I thought I once heard him saying that he knew more than our loser generals. For a moment, I allowed my cynical self to experience a moment of hope. But apparently, The Donald doesn’t even know as little as they do.

    Finally, I don’t think that any American needs to apologize to our pimped-out mercenary assassins, dead or alive, whether uniformed or not. They fight for a paltry paycheck against anyone, for any reason, anywhere. If they get killed trying to kill others for Saudi Arabian princes or Apartheid Zionist squatters in Palestine, then they’ve got coming to them whatever they get. They ought to know better, but apparently they don’t.


    1. Mike: the real war seems to be for the federal budget as well as societal/governmental authority, and the Pentagon and U.S. military are definitely winning that “war.”

      Meanwhile, look over there! Trump just tweeted about Ivanka’s line of clothing (Made in China, by the way).


  2. “Victory has many fathers but defeat is an orphan,” JFK said cynically after the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs debacle in Cuba which departing President Dwight Eisenhower handed off to him and to his can-do New Frontiersmen in the traditional passing of the baton. That’s how I view the debate over the American raid by SEALS on a AQAP stronghold in Yemeni, that is, from a longer historical perspective. So when one compares this raid to the Bay of Pigs, it seems to fall far short in gravitas and importance critics have leveled at President Donald Trump. Failure is a harsh mistress. But she is also an excellent though pain-inducing teacher to the student. Hopefully, Hopefully, Trump and his influential adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, have learned an important lesson in going off half-cocked and naively assuming President Barack Obama was only handing off this operation as a gesture of goodwill.. Obama tossed Trump a live hand grenade without the pin and it blew up in Trump’s face. But what is really needed is, of course, is a political solution , a new and hard-nosed diplomatic initiative toward all parties in this civil war by the incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Now he can put his skills honed as an oil executive for ExxonMobil to use and resolve this humanitarian crisis.


  3. “Trump’s botched raid”? For one thing, the raid was planned under the Obama Administration. Secondly, do you really think that Pres. Trump had anything to do with either the planning or the execution of this?


    1. Remember what Truman said: “The buck stops here.” The president takes the credit, or the blame, and it’s not always fair.

      But that wasn’t my main point. The raid was botched, but instead of admitting that, Trump and his mouthpieces presented it as a major success. And then they attacked reasonable critics of the raid for being unpatriotic, claiming they defamed the dead SEAL. Think about that. Americans can’t criticize a military action, no matter how poorly executed, if an American troop dies? That’s a dangerous mentality to have.


      1. Nah, it’s just business as usual when it comes to the Trump. That’s who he is and how he reacts to criticism. I think you are being a bit overwrought. This kind of.things happened more than the brass would admit when I served in Vietnam.


    2. Did you by any chance read my post? I stated exactly what you are criticizing me for not doing. Either you need to take a remedial course inreading comprehension or you have to give me the cellphone number of your dealer because you are smoking some dynamite shit. And I would definitely like to score some of that dope.


  4. Reblogged this on Bracing Views and commented:

    An update on the Yemen Raid, according to NBC News: “Last month’s deadly commando raid in Yemen, which cost the lives of a U.S. Navy SEAL and a number of children, has so far yielded no significant intelligence, U.S. officials told NBC News.

    Although Pentagon officials have said the raid produced “actionable intelligence,” senior officials who spoke to NBC News said they were unaware of any, even as the father of the dead SEAL questioned the premise of the raid in an interview with the Miami Herald published Sunday.”

    The Pentagon apparently has three investigations ongoing into the raid, though it’s unclear whether results will be shared with the American people. Meanwhile, President Trump is promising a big boost to the Pentagon’s budget: $54 billion next year. More money promises more military adventurism — and more death.



  5. Not only this umptiest botched raid killed Al Awlaki’s little daughter, a previous one (I think 2011) shortly after his own drone-death, had killed his teenage son, American citizen, and an equally young nephew.
    As for accountability, there will be the umptiest ‘thorough investigation’ after which we will never hear about it anymore. In the best (?) case, the carnage will have been the result of an ‘unfortunate mistake, temporary lack of communication, failing equipment, etc’ – none of which is ever properly explained.
    The longer total withdrawal of US/NATO armies (whatever we call them, trainers, advisors, special forces etc) from occupied countries will be delayed, the more intractable the quagmire will be. If they had pulled out of Afghanistan in 2002 (or better still, never had ‘liberated’ it), the ensuing civil war would probably already have finished, as the previous one was still fresh in everyone’s mind (ended by taliban in 1996) and was viewed as the worst part of the then 20+ yrs old armed conflicts. There were hardly any drug addicts then and poppy production was at an amazing low of just a few thousand hectares as opposed to the roughly 250.000 ones since we took over.
    Now, there is a whole new generation of – unemployed and futureless young men who have never known the horrors of the civil war and thus can much easier be lured into joining any of the fighting parties, poppy production is sky-high, the number of drug addicts is well over two million and by proudly killing contless ‘taliban leaders’, we have fragmented them into countless competing factions. Not to mention the increasing influence of DAESH.
    Add the ‘clemency’ for the ‘Butcher of Kabul’ Hekmatyar and the recent flaring up of hostilities in the North between civil war enemies Dostum (vice-president) and Atta, and you have all the ingredients for a fully blown civil war.

    But US/NATO will not leave, as that would mean giving up the military bases which they built in that defenceless country and which allow them military power over surrounding Iran, Pakistan, former Soviet republics and even China Beware of conquerors bearing gifts, even if these have lofty names such as ‘freedom, democracy, civilisation, stabilisation, prosperity’ …

    As if that were not enough, this imperialistic and unaccountable Pax Americana is increasingly being copy-catted by others emboldened by this example : Saudi mindless bombing of equally defenceless Yemen, Duterte boasting of his own kill list, Putin/Assad bombing hospitals, etc, etc, etc.

    Thank you Mr Klare, for reminding the world of this.


  6. Mr. Astore;

    Wanted to say that I enjoy your blog. I’m currently in the process of writing a book about my time in the Army post-9/11. Your blog is one of just a few that captures my interest, agree or not. Do you have any other suggestions for similar writing online?

    As far as this mission in Yemen. Would we even be talking about it if say, one of the pilots were killed in action, rather than a member of a SEAL team? During Trump’s speech last night I couldn’t help but think of the soldiers who were wounded and never mentioned. The women and children basically extinguished for being at home on a wrong night. Or that it’s all worth it if we collected some “actionable” intel? I’d ask, “is one US serviceman’s life worth anything available in this war-ravaged country?” I’m no dove, but it seems far past the moment we asked ourselves what we are even fighting for over there? And is it even legal for us to send military personnel into this sovereign nation?

    Alas, thanks for the thoughts. JL


    1. Hello: thanks for your interest in my site. There are many good sites on military topics. From a progressive perspective, TomDispatch.com, War Is Boring, Informed Comment (JuanCole.com), articles on The Intercept, and sites such as Antiwar.com and CommonDreams offer articles and ideas that are outside the mainstream. From a more conservative perspective, The American Conservative is often critical of mindless imperialism. If you visit these sites, they’ll often have a “blog roll” with links to similar sites. For book reviews on military history, try the Michigan War Studies Review.

      Your questions on Yemen: Is it legal? I’m not a lawyer, but I suppose you could spin it as “legal” in the sense the Yemeni government that we support “invited” us, i.e. we had their permission. Of course, that’s a fig leaf of legality. Yes, it’s more than strange that the dead SEAL is lionized while killed and wounded Yemenis are more or less forgotten. Meanwhile, the President has passed the buck to his generals for approving the raid. This article by Glenn Greenwald explains the dynamic: https://theintercept.com/2017/03/01/trumps-use-of-navy-seals-wife-highlights-all-the-key-ingredients-of-u-s-war-propaganda/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! Yeah, I find tomsdispatch in particular quite fulfilling. Andrew Bacevich resonates often on geopolitical analysis –though I try my best to find intelligent analysis that contradicts my own worldview—
        The Dan Carlin podcast, “common sense” usually satisfies my appetite for smart, out-of-the-box commentary.

        I do enjoy Greenwald for his fearless, unflinching editorials. He can be a bit idealistic, nevertheless, direct, and I presume he is the type of reporter that those in power despise?

        Thanks for the direction. I’m about to read the new post. Cheers


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