The raid killed a Navy SEAL, Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, 36, and has become increasingly controversial as the Pentagon acknowledged civilian casualties likely occurred and media reports alleged that President Trump approved the operation without sufficient intelligence. The latter point has been disputed by both the Pentagon and Spicer.
Here is a timeline of events, compiled in an effort to help cut through the confusion:
Nov. 7, 2016
U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations across the Middle East, submitted a plan to the Pentagon that discussed the possibility of at least one Special Operations raid against a headquarters of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a group of militants that U.S. officials believe are focused on attacks on Western targets. Spicer later implied it included the raid carried out Jan. 28, disclosing the action in response to a question about whether there were consultations with the previous administration and military officials “about the raid moving forward.” Former administration officials dispute that point.
Nov. 8, 2016
Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.
Dec. 19, 2016
A plan for Yemen “was approved by the Department of Defense and recommended that it be moved ahead,” Spicer said. It was sent to the Obama administration’s National Security Council for additional consideration. Colin Kahl, a former Obama administration official, said the document did not include anything specifically about the raid carried out Jan. 28, and focused more broadly on a request from the military to carry out raids in Yemen.
Jan. 6, 2017
Spicer said an “interagency meeting of deputies” in the Obama administration met to discuss the military’s Yemen proposal, and said it “was so easily approved it was sent straight up.” The discussion, Spicer suggested, included specifics of the raid ultimately carried out Jan. 28.
“The conclusion was at that time to hold it for what they called a ‘moonless night,’ which by calendar wouldn’t occur until then-President-elect Trump was President Trump,” Spicer said.
A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said a plan for the raid ultimately carried out that was “given full consideration” by the Obama administration around this time. But former Obama administration officials said it was not discussed at the deputies’ meeting, and remained within the Defense Department. The recommendation out of the meeting was for the incoming Trump administration to review the request for raids in Yemen, Kahl said.
Jan. 20, 2017
Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. Jim Mattis, a retired Marine general who oversaw Central Command before retiring in 2013, became Trump’s defense secretary after being confirmed by the Senate with a 98-1 vote.
Jan. 24, 2017
Mattis read a memorandum about the raid and “re-sent it back up to the White House conveying his support,” Spicer said. Obama administration officials dispute that the proposal for the specific raid reached the White House until sometime around then.
The specifics of what was in the memorandum are not clear, but Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Defense Department sought permission to carry out the raid “after January 20th” and that the U.S. military “sought the authority for and received the authority for proceeding with it” then.
Jan. 25, 2017
Trump was briefed by national security adviser Michael Flynn on the recommendation to carry out a raid in Yemen, Spicer said. The president responded by requesting to meet with Mattis and Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That same evening, Trump had dinner with senior officials and “the operation was laid out in great extent.”
Among those present, Spicer said, were Mattis, Dunford, Flynn, Vice President Pence, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, senior adviser to the president Jared Kushner, chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and Curtis “Keith” Kellogg, the National Security Council’s chief of staff and executive secretary. “The indication at that time was to go ahead” with the raid, Spicer said. But Trump still needed to formally authorize it.
Jan. 26-27, 2017
Spicer said the deputies committee met again “on Friday, the 26th in the morning,” although Friday that week was Jan. 27. Spicer said it was a necessary step because the deputies had previously recommended the action, but that may also be in dispute if a specific plan for the raid was not considered during the meeting early in January.
Trump authorized the raid Jan. 26 or Jan. 27, depending on whether he signed the order Thursday or Friday.
Jan. 28, 2017
Elite Navy SEALs carried out the raid on an AQAP compound in Yemen’s Bayda governorate, using the cover of darkness for concealment. Owens and three other SEALs were wounded, and other service members were injured in an aviation mishap nearby in which an MV-22 Osprey aircraft piloted by a Marine off the USS Makin Island made a “hard landing.” The aircraft was damaged seriously enough that commanders made the decision to destroy it with an airstrike so it would not be exploited by AQAP.
Fourteen militants were killed, as were Owens and numerous civilians. The dead included the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born cleric who joined al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen and was later killed in a 2011 U.S. drone strike. Several female militants ran to planned fighting positions and opened fire on the SEALs, U.S. military officials said.
Trump was in the White House during the raid, which occurred late Jan. 28 in Washington and early Jan. 29 in Yemen.
Jan. 29, 2017
U.S. officials acknowledge the raid in Yemen and the death of a U.S. service member. In a statement, Trump called the raid successful and said U.S. forces were “instrumental in killing an estimated 14 AQAP and capturing important intelligence” that will help in counterterrorism efforts.
“My deepest thoughts and humblest prayers are with the family of this fallen service member,” Trump said. “I also pray for a quick and complete recovery for the brave service members who sustained injuries.”
Jan. 30, 2017
Local media reports began emerging that numerous civilians were killed in the firefight, including Nawar al-Awlaki, the American citizen who was the daughter of the controversial American cleric.
Jan. 31, 2017
The U.S. military identified Owens as the Navy SEAL killed in the raid. Davis, the Pentagon spokesman, acknowledged the Pentagon is assessing reports of civilian casualties in the raid.
The Washington Post published a report with several new details about the raid and reported that the Pentagon is drawing up plans to be considered by the White House that, if approved, would delegate decision-making for operations in Yemen to lower levels of the government and accelerate the fight against AQAP.
Feb. 1, 2017
The U.S. military acknowledged it is “likely” civilians were killed in the Yemen raid. Reuters and the New York Times both published reports raising questions about how well the raid was planned and whether it was approved with sufficient preparation.
Feb. 2, 2017
The Pentagon and White House defended the planning and execution of the raid, and said details reported in the New York Times that the mission was compromised were untrue. Spicer, at a White House news conference, lays out a timeline for how the operation in Yemen was planned and approved. Kahl and Price disputed some of his statements on Twitter afterward, especially that the specific conceptual operation plan for the raid was reviewed by Obama administration officials at the White House.