WASHINGTON — In a television interview, President Donald Trump appeared to blame his military leaders for a Navy SEAL's death last month during a troubled raid in Yemen, saying "they" pushed elite sailor into a dangerous mission.
During an appearance Tuesday on Fox News, Trump said the January raid on an al-Qaida stronghold "was started before I got here" and that generals within the Defense Department were insistent on moving ahead. The president did not identify the generals by name. Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens was killed and three other U.S. service members.
"This was something they wanted to do," he said. "They came to me, they explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected, the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan."
In addition to Owens' death, at least three other Americans were wounded in the firefight that ensued after militants were alerted of the covert team’s assault. An aircraft was also heavily damaged during the mission.
During his interview on Fox, Trump said that, according to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the raid was "a very successful mission" that recovered "tremendous amounts of information."
The Pentagon has said 14 militants were killed in the raid, but Yemeni authorities have indicated a number of women and children also were among the casualties. U.S. officials say some of the women were armed combatants who fired on the SEALs.
The White House has sparred with lawmakers and critics in the weeks since, insisting those who've criticized the mission also have disrespected Owens' service and sacrifice.
The administration also pushed back against a report by NBC Newsindicating little information of value was recovered during the mission, and other media reports suggesting that higher-level targets were missed in the attack.
White House officials have repeatedly said that planning for the mission dates back to last fall, and that former President Barack Obama would have authorized the mission earlier if weather and moonlight conditions were different. Former Obama officials have disputed that assertion.
On Tuesday morning, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — who has criticized Trump for calling the raid "successful" given the death of Owens — said the controversies surrounding the mission should not take away from the courage and professionalism of the military personnel involved.
Owens father has publicly questionedwhether Trump was properly prepared to authorize the mission and asked for an investigation into the matter. White House officials have said the Pentagon is reviewing what went wrong during the assault.
During the Fox interview, Trump said he understood the anger of Owen’s father, adding "there’s nothing worse" than losing service member in action.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.