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U.S. Acknowledges Death Of Civilians In Yemen Raid

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're learning more today about the deadly raid American troops launched last weekend in Yemen. The Pentagon is now confirming that civilians, including women and children, were likely killed in the attack. The raid also claimed the life of an American sailor, Navy SEAL William Ryan Owens, and injured four other American troops.

NPR's Tom Bowman has been covering this story and joins us in the studio. Hi, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What more do we now know about this incident in Yemen?

BOWMAN: Well, just what you said. The Pentagon is now saying and investigating that civilians were likely killed in this raid by Navy SEALs, and they may include children - looks like they were possibly killed, according to the Pentagon, by machine gun fire from helicopters. Now, our colleague Alice Fordham already reported that by talking with relatives of those killed, and I confirmed that a couple of days ago with a senior Pentagon official that there were both women and multiple children killed here.

Now, today, White House Spokesman Sean Spicer also gave a timeline on this raid. He said the plan was devised in early November, approved by the Pentagon and the Obama - top Obama White House officials after the election. Then just last week, all top Trump officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, signed off, and Trump approved it. They were waiting, also, Ari, for a moonless night for the operation so you have the cover of darkness. And that happened over the weekend.

SHAPIRO: What don't we know still about what happened and how this went so wrong?

BOWMAN: Well, quite a bit. There are reports the SEALs lost the element of surprise. If that's true, why would the mission - why wouldn't you scrap the mission? Our reporter Alice Fordham, by the way, was told by locals they were surprised when they saw the SEALs approaching this area.

Also, you know, how good was the intelligence? Were they aware there were families there, and what effect does that have or should that have on an operation going forward? I'm also told there were senior terrorist leaders there. Did they kill them? Did they miss them? Were they there at all? Usually when they kill someone of importance, they immediately put out a press release. That did not happen this time.

SHAPIRO: The White House argues that these American troops did accomplish something important. Let's listen to part of what Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during today's White House briefing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEAN SPICER: I think when you look at the totality of what was gained to prevent the future loss of life here in America and against our people our institutions and probably throughout the world in terms of what some of these individuals could have done, I think it is a successful operation by all standards.

SHAPIRO: And so despite the chaos and the loss of life both American and civilian Yemeni, it seems the White House sees something positive in here. Does that mean we can expect more action like this in Yemen and nearby?

BOWMAN: Well, the key thing here is useful information they supposedly picked up on this raid. If that's the case, you could see additional raids against al-Qaida in Yemen. But one thing is clear, Ari. The administration is very focused on Yemen - not only concerns about the al-Qaida presence there but also the Iranian support for the rebels who are fighting against the government of Yemen.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tom Bowman. Thanks a lot, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.