It's entirely possible that the plan was solid enough and that things just didn't go the way they thought it would. War is messy, and a plan is just that — a plan. It's not a guarantee. Intelligence can be wrong or incomplete, the enemy can behave in ways you didn't anticipate, mechanical equipment can malfunction, and so on. A million different things can go wrong that aren't really anybody's fault. That's just the fog of war.
Or it could have been a bad operation that should've been called off once things started going south. Indeed, the Times's account of how the operation went down seemed to suggest as much, stating that the operation was "jinxed from the start":
Qaeda fighters were somehow tipped off to the stealthy advance toward the village — perhaps by the whine of American drones that local tribal leaders said were flying lower and louder than usual.
Through a communications intercept, the commandos knew that the mission had been somehow compromised, but pressed on toward their target roughly five miles from where they had been flown into the area. "They kind of knew they were screwed from the beginning," one former SEAL Team 6 official said.
With the crucial element of surprise lost, the Americans and Emiratis found themselves in a gun battle with Qaeda fighters who took up positions in other houses, a clinic, a school and a mosque, often using women and children as cover, American military officials said in interviews this week.
The commandos were taken aback when some of the women grabbed weapons and started firing, multiplying the militant firepower beyond what they had expected. The Americans called in airstrikes from helicopter gunships and fighter aircraft that helped kill some 14 Qaeda fighters, but not before an MV-22 Osprey aircraft involved in the operation experienced a "hard landing," injuring three more American personnel on board. The Osprey, which the Marine Corps said cost $75 million, was badly damaged and had to be destroyed by an airstrike.
If, as the SEAL Team Six official said, "They kind of knew they were screwed from the beginning," one wonders why the mission wasn't called off at that point.
Or maybe it was just a half-assed plan from the get-go.
Regardless, it's entirely possible that the military officers who gave that story to Reuters were essentially trying to spread the blame around a bit. Cover their asses, if you will.
But there's another possibility, one that could have much broader implications for the way the administration conducts its foreign policy going forward: that some individuals in the military purposely want to paint Trump as at best a bumbling idiot, or at worst a careless and impulsive leader whose rash decisions will get American service members killed.
I have no idea if that is the case. But it's not out of the realm of possibility. Trump is no ordinary president. And many of his foreign policy views — disdain for longstanding US alliances like NATO, a seemingly cozy relationship with Russia, our old Cold War nemesis, etc. — are far, far outside the mainstream views of the foreign policy and national security community.
It would not be all that surprising to learn that some in the military were concerned enough about what Trump might get us into that they might think it's not a bad idea to leak a bit of misleading information to the press to make it look like Trump doesn't know what he's doing and maybe just got an American — and innocent civilians — killed because of it.
Trump may be a brash, inexperienced, volatile president with some seriously dangerous ideas about foreign policy and national security, but that doesn't mean everything is his fault — no matter how much some may want it to be.
Commentary by Jennifer Williams, deputy foreign editor at Vox. Follow him/her on Twitter @jenn_ruth.
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