Democrats are demanding briefings on a U.S. raid on al Qaeda that left one Navy SEAL dead, along with an unspecified number of civilians.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) wrote to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) asking for an "urgent briefing." Separately, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said in a statement that he requested a briefing from the Pentagon.
“Serious questions have been raised regarding a recent raid in Yemen that resulted in the death of an American sailor," Gallego wrote. “I write to respectfully encourage our committee to request an urgent briefing from the Department of Defense and the administration on the planning and execution of this mission as well as on the decision-making process that preceded its approval.”
On Saturday, SEAL Team 6 conducted a raid aimed at gathering intelligence from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, considered the terrorist groups' most dangerous branch.
A firefight ensued, with al Qaeda reportedly alerted to the SEALs impending arrival. Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens, 36, was killed in the fight. Four other U.S. troops were injured in the operation, which also saw an MV-22 Osprey aircraft crash land. The aircraft was destroyed by U.S. firepower to keep it away from enemy hands.
There have also been reports of civilian casualties, ranging from 16 to 30. Reported among the dead is Nawar al-Awlaki, or Nora, the 8-year-old American daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki. Anwar-al Awlaki, an American-born cleric and top al Qaeda leader in Yemen, was killed in a controversial U.S. drone strike in 2011.
U.S. Central Command has acknowledged that civilian deaths were likely and said it is continuing to investigate.
The Pentagon and White House have said President Trump approved the raid, his first as president, though it had been in the works for months dating back to the Obama administration.
Former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTop nuclear policy appointee removed from Pentagon post: report Prosecutors face legal challenges over obstruction charge in Capitol riot cases Biden makes early gains eroding Trump's environmental legacy MORE reportedly did not approve the raid only because the Pentagon wanted to wait until the next moonless night, which wouldn’t come until he left office.
U.S. military officials told Reuters that the operation was approved without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup operations.
The White House defended the raid, with press secretary Sean Spicer saying Thursday that the operation was “a very, very well thought out and executed effort.”
But the death toll, chaos and the reports have left lawmakers with questions they want answered.
“The chaotic events that unfolded in Yemen should prompt an urgent inquiring from our committee,” wrote Gallego, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War. “We have a responsibility to learn more about how this operation was planned and executed and whether lessons can be gleaned that could save American lives in the future.”
Lieu, also a veteran, said he was “highly disturbed” by the reports that the mission was approved without full intelligence, and he highlighted Trump’s past disparaging remarks about the intelligence community.
“Given this context, the lingering questions surrounding the Yemen mission are deeply troubling and they demand answers,” he said in his statement. “I have requested a briefing on this counterterrorism operation from the Department of Defense.”
Separately, Amnesty International wrote a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday calling for an investigation into the civilian deaths.
“Ordering a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the January 28th SEAL Team raid would make a promising start to your tenure as secretary of Defense, signaling that you take seriously the issues of civilian casualties and respect for international humanitarian law,” Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, wrote to Mattis.
“We also recommend that, if the investigation finds that civilians were killed, the Defense Department offer financial amends to their families, as has been done in some prior cases in Afghanistan and elsewhere.”