Instead, Pentagon officials called it a "site exploitation mission" designed to gather intelligence. Defense officials later did not dispute McCain's characterization, saying they were hoping to kill or capture certain militants, though they declined to name them. NBC News and other media outlets have reported that Sheikh Abdel-Raouf al-Dhahab was among the dead. The Pentagon calls him an al Qaeda leader; the Yemeni government disagrees.
Plans for the raid were begun during the Obama administration, but Obama officials declined to sign off on what officials described as a significant escalation in Yemen. Just five days in, Trump greenlighted the mission.
"Certainly the Obama administration, particularly by the end of its 8-year run, was very cautious in moving forward with any kind of military activity," retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former NATO commander and current NBC News security analyst, said. "A new administration I think naturally is going to be spring-loaded to move out and demonstrate something."
The White House has repeatedly called the Yemen mission a success. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Feb. 8 that anyone "who undermines the success of that raid owes an apology and [does] a disservice to the life of Chief Owens."
"We gathered an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil," said Spicer.
A Defense Department official also pushed back Monday afternoon, saying the raid has yielded "a significant amount" of intelligence.
But the only example the military has provided turned out to be an old bomb-making video that was of no current value.
On Monday, Spicer addressed the remarks of Bill Owens, whose son died.
"I can tell him that on behalf of the president, his son died a hero and the information that he was able to help obtain through that raid, as I said before, is going to save American lives," he said. "The mission was successful in helping prevent a future attack or attacks on this nation."
Multiple senior officials told NBC News they have not seen evidence to support that claim.
In addition to the death of Ryan Owens, six other U.S. service members were wounded. And at least 25 civilians were killed, including nine children under the age of 13, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. One of them was the 8-year-old daughter of U.S.-born al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
A Pentagon official told NBC News today the Pentagon does not dispute these numbers.
A $70 million U.S. aircraft also was destroyed. The Pentagon already has at least three investigations into the raid underway.
"When we look at evidently very little actual intelligence out, the loss of a high performance aircraft and above all the loss of a highly trained special forces member of SEAL Team 6, I think we need to understand why this mission, why now, what happened, and what the actual output was," Stavridis said.
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