The Corner

National Security & Defense

Was the Raid in Yemen More Fruitful than the Early Reports Indicated?

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Maybe that Raid in Yemen Was More Fruitful Than The Early Reports Indicated

This is the problem with anonymous sources. NBC News, February 28:

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.

The New York Times, this morning:

Computers and cellphones seized during a deadly Special Operations raid in Yemen in January offer clues about attacks Al Qaeda could carry out in the future, including insights into new types of hidden explosives the group is making and new training tactics for militants, according to American officials.

The information contained in the cellphones, laptop computers and other materials scooped up in the raid is still being analyzed, but it has not yet revealed any specific plots, and it has not led to any strikes against Qaeda militants in Yemen or elsewhere, officials said.

American counterterrorism officials say the Qaeda wing in Yemen is one of the deadliest in the world and poses the most immediate threat to the American homeland, having tried unsuccessfully to carry out three airliner attacks over the United States.

Here’s the most intriguing section:

The preliminary intelligence findings from the raid are contained in a three-page classified document presented to Mr. Mattis. The findings, some of which were first reported by The Associated Press, included new explosives developed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. The group has specialized in developing nonmetallic bombs that can be inserted into body cavities to avoid detection. Other new insights concern Al Qaeda’s regional and global network, and training techniques that give clues to attacks it could carry out in the future.

Did the “U.S. officials” talk to the “American officials”? Are we sure that the first group of officials was really in a position to know if the teams had recovered valuable information? Doesn’t it take some time to figure out whether information is valuable? If you find a list of phone numbers, how long does it take to figure out if the numbers belong to other members of a terror cell, or just some guy’s buddies?

The quickly-emerging narrative of Trump critics is that this was some sort of military disaster that is somehow directly Trump’s fault. To buy into this, you have to believe that up and down the chain of command, everyone simply shrugged off unacceptable risks or eagerly embraced a mission that would kill special operations forces. Our men and women in uniform are human and imperfect, but I simply don’t buy that.

Secondly, let’s assume no valuable information was recovered… what’s the lesson? Clearly something indicated there was something of value at that target. Do we want our counterterrorism officials only launching raids when they’re 100 percent certain that they will recover valuable intelligence? If that was the standard, we never would have launched the raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden. This is war. Murphy’s law applies. Things will go wrong. I don’t want the people responsible for stopping terrorists to be constantly worried about who will get blamed if things go wrong. Learn from every experience, study your failures, and plan for next time.

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