White House press secretary Sean Spicer continued to defend a deadly raid in Yemen as “a huge success” and said that anyone who says otherwise — including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — does “a disservice” to a Navy SEAL who lost his life in the hostilities.
“He fought knowing what was at stake in that mission,” Spicer said, referring to Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens. “And anybody who would suggest otherwise doesn't fully appreciate how successful that mission was, what the information that they were able to retrieve was and how that will help prevent future terrorist attacks.”
Spicer’s comments in the White House briefing room came a day after McCain said in a statement that while many objectives were met in last month’s raid on al-Qaeda, he could “ not describe any operation that results in the loss of American life as a success.”
Asked specifically about McCain’s comments, Spicer did not back down in his assessment during an exchange with reporters that grew testy.
“I understand that,” Spicer said. “I think my statement's very clear on that. … I think anybody who undermines the success of that raid owes an apology and [does] disservice to the life of Chief Owens.”
“The action that was taken in Yemen was a huge success,” Spicer continued. “American lives will be saved because of it, future attacks will be prevented. The life of Chief Ryan Owens was done in service to this country, and we owe him and his family a great debt for the information that we received during that raid. I think any suggestion otherwise is a disservice to his courageous life and the actions that he took, full stop.”
Asked again about McCain, Spicer said: “That's my message to anybody who says that. Anybody. … I don't know how much clearer I can be.”
Spicer's comments Wednesday appeared to mark a shift from what he said on the same subject last week. At that point, he told reporters: “I think it's hard to ever say something was successful when you lose a life.”
Last month’s raid — billed as an intelligence-gathering operation on the militant group — turned into an hour-long gunfight as Navy SEALs and troops from the United Arab Emirates clashed with well-entrenched al-Qaeda fighters. Owens reportedly died in the exchange of gunfire. Five other service members were wounded by hostile fire and a hard landing after a Marine transport aircraft crashed near the raid site.
Yemeni officials said the operation killed 15 women and children, including the 8-year-old daughter of the Yemeni American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in 2011 in a U.S. drone strike.
Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed to this report.