Lessons and Propaganda From the Botched Raid on Yemen

by , February 13, 2017

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

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 US invaded, he said the US 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. US 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 US 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 US 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 US 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.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at wastore@pct.edu. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

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