MILITARY

No bad judgment calls in Yemen raid, top US Middle East commander says

March 9:  US Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington.

March 9: US Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington.  (Reuters)

Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, told senators Thursday that he has completed an exhaustive review of the Yemen raid that killed a Navy SEAL and has concluded there were no lapses in judgment or decision-making surrounding the operation.

Votel, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, said he sees no need for additional investigations into the January mission that triggered debate over what went wrong and whether important intelligence was actually gathered. It was the first military raid authorized by President Trump.

During the raid on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula militants, U.S. special operations forces came under heavy fire. Chief Special Warfare Officer William "Ryan" Owens was killed, six other American service members were injured and a helicopter was damaged.

The Trump administration found itself in debate played out in the media with Sen. John McCain, who questioned the success of the mission. McCain said at the time that he “would not describe any operation that resulted in the loss of American life as a success.”

Trump, who honored Owens' widow during his speech to Congress last week, has repeatedly defended the raid as successful. He told Congress that it "generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies."

Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington that a separate investigation into potential civilian casualties found that between four and 12 innocent people were killed.

Among the civilians killed was the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric and U.S. citizen who was targeted and killed by a drone strike in 2011.

Votel, who presided over an internal review, said he was "looking for information gaps where we can't explain what happened in a particular situation or we have conflicting information between members of the organization. I am looking for indicators of incompetence or poor decision making or bad judgment throughout all this."

In the end, he said, "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 apply in future operations."

Votel said there was no need for an additional investigation.

Votel added that he believes the U.S. gained valuable information on Al Qaeda militants.

Votel said investigations into the helicopter crash are continuing. One is an aircraft safety investigation, intended to generate any important information for the helicopter fleet. The second is a look at what caused the helicopter to make a hard landing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report