Centcom commander: I take responsibility for Yemen raid

Centcom commander: I take responsibility for Yemen raid
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The commander of U.S. Central Command (Centcom) took responsibility Thursday for the controversial raid in Yemen that left one Navy SEAL dead and said the military has concluded somewhere between four and 12 civilians were killed in the operation.

“I am responsible for this mission,” Gen. Joseph Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I am the Centcom commander, and I am responsible for what’s done in my region and what’s not done in my region. So I accept responsibility for this.”

Asked by The Hill after the hearing whether President Trump should be taking responsibility for the raid as commander in chief, Votel reiterated his role as Centcom commander.

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“I think that might be — that’s — that — this was a military operation, and I’m responsible for military operations in this region, so I’m taking my responsibility,” he said. 

Days into Trump’s presidency, Votel signed off on a raid against al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch. Reports have painted a chaotic scene where almost everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. 

Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens was killed, other troops were wounded, civilians were killed, and a $75 U.S. military aircraft that crashed had to be destroyed so that it wouldn’t fall into enemy hands. 

Trump has said the raid was “highly successful” and that valuable intelligence was gathered. He also appeared to shift blame to his generals, saying that “they lost” Owens.

Owens' widow, Carryn, was in the audience during Trump's joint address to Congress last month, when he said that the SEAL's legacy is "etched into eternity." Carryn Owens received a two-minute, bipartisan standing ovation from lawmakers as tears streamed down her face.

In Thursday’s hearing, Votel acknowledge the losses on the raid, but said useful intelligence was gathered.

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“We lost a lot on this operation,” Votel said. “We lost a valued operator. We had people wounded. We caused civilian casualties, lost an expensive aircraft. We did gain some valuable information that will be helpful for us. Our intention here was to improve our knowledge against this threat, a threat that poses a direct threat to us here in the homeland.” 

The military has finished three investigations into the raid, Votel added: the investigation into civilian casualties, a statutory investigation into Owen’s death and an investigation into what went wrong. Two investigations into the destruction of the aircraft are ongoing.

“We have made a determination based on our best information available that we did cause casualties, somewhere between four and 12 casualties, that we accept — I accept responsibility for,” Votel said of the civilian casualty assessment.

The investigation into Owen’s death was meant to determine whether he was killed in the line of duty, which is required before his widow can receive survivor benefits. 

The final investigation that’s been completed was an “after action review” that the military does on all its operations, Votel said. The intention is to answer question such as whether there were information gaps and whether there was incompetence or bad judgment. 

“We did an exhaustive after action review on this. I presided over that,” he said. “As a result of that, I was satisfied that none of those indicators that I identified to you were present. I think we had a good understanding of exactly what happened on this objective, and we’ve been able to pull lessons learned out of that that we will be able to apply in future operations in the past.”

After the hearing, Votel said he has not briefed Owens’s family on the review.

Owens’ father has been critical of the raid, questioning why it was needed in the first place and calling for an investigation. 

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBudowsky: Trump destroying GOP in 2018, '19, '20 Conservative group cuts ties with Michelle Malkin Democratic debate at Tyler Perry's could miss the mark with black voters MORE (R-Ariz.), chairman of the committee, said he would still like answers on why the operation went ahead despite coming under heavy fire. 

But, he added, his criticism of the raid does not diminish his respect for Owens’ “heroism and sacrifice.”

“We honor their sacrifice no matter what happened in the mission,” McCain said. “When you have women and children killed, as you pointed out, loss of a $70 million aircraft, you do not capture anyone as was part of the mission, that mission is not a success. 

“But that happens in war. There’s a thing called the fog of war. They did the best they could under very difficult circumstances.” 

McCain also referenced the Vietnam War, saying the country learned from that to be honest about the success or failure of missions. 

 

“Unless you tell the American people the truth, the absolute truth, then we are going to revisit another war a long time ago where we didn’t tell the American people the truth and we paid a very heavy price for it,” he said. “There’s 55,000 names engraved in black granite not far from here, and the American people were not told the truth about whether we were succeeding or failing in that war, and then because of that, it all collapsed. So I hope that we won’t forget that lesson.”

- This story was updated at 12:44 p.m.