New data will produce counterterrorism ‘victories’
Washington Free Beacon, by Bill Gertz, March 1, 2017:
President Trump on Tuesday told a joint session of Congress that a recent covert military operation in Yemen produced intelligence information that will be used in further efforts to counter terrorism.
Outlining his first weeks in office, Trump defended the Jan. 29 special operations raid in Yemen that led to the death of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens and the wounding of six others.
Owens’ widow, Carryn Owens was a guest of the president for the speech.
“Ryan died as he lived: A warrior, and a hero—battling against terrorism and securing our nation,” Trump said.
Trump then said the Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “reconfirmed that, ‘Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.”
The Pentagon, Trump said, is developing plans to “demolish and destroy ISIS—a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women, and children of all faiths and beliefs.”
“We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet,” he said.
On Iran, Trump noted that he has imposed sanctions on organizations and people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, following the recent test of an Iranian missile.
On the NATO alliance, Trump said he strongly supports NATO but urged America’s partners to “meet their financial obligations.”
“And now, based on our very strong and frank discussions, they are beginning to do just that,” he said. “We expect our partners, whether in NATO, in the Middle East, or the Pacific—to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost.”
Much of the speech was focused on how the Trump administration would seek to solve American problems and lessen involvement in foreign affairs and overseas conflicts.
“We’ve financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit—and so many other places throughout our land,” he said. “We’ve defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross—and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.”
Trump said he has ordered government agencies to engage in an aggressive campaign to shut drug networks operating in the United States.
Trillions of dollars have been spent overseas while American infrastructure has not been modernized, he said.
Trump promised to bring dying U.S. industries back to life and provide more resources to the U.S. military. New roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, and railways will be built and the drug epidemic will be curbed and “ultimately stop,” he said.
American urban areas will be provided with a “rebirth of hope, safety, and opportunity,” the president added.
Trump also stated that he is moving ahead with building a wall along the United States’ southern border to prevent terrorists from entering the country and to block the flow of illegal drugs into the country.
“We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America—we cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists,” the president said.
Trump administration national security officials said the new information, which was not revealed prior to the speech, was discussed during a Tuesday meeting between Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the White House.
The White House and Pentagon are pushing back against what officials said are inaccurate news reports claiming the Yemen raid did not produce very valuable intelligence.
The Jan. 29 commando raid in Yakla village in central Yemen targeted a group of terrorists belonging to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al Qaeda branch that has been linked to several terrorist attacks in the United States, including the 2015 San Bernardino and 2016 Orlando attacks. Fourteen people were killed in the San Bernardino shootings, and 49 people were shot at a night club in Orlando.
In both attacks, the terrorists who carried out the shootings had been inspired by Anwar al Awlaki, an American-born al Qaeda terrorist who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011 in Yemen but whose English-language lectures on jihad are available on the Internet.
U.S. Navy SEAL Ryan Owens was killed and six others wounded in the Yemen raid. Unconfirmed reports from Yemen said 25 civilians also were killed in the commando raid, including the daughter of Awlaki.
Officials said the covert military operation produced a large volume of valuable intelligence information on the group and its activities.
“The raid did achieve its objectives even if it did so at a significant cost,” said one official familiar with details of the raid. “And it did produce a lot of intelligence—terabytes of information and multiple devices along with information on hundreds of people.”
The official said the raid was likely the “most significant AQAP haul in recent years.” AQAP is the acronym for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The massive amount of information from the raid is still under review by intelligence officials.
The official said an NBC News report from Monday asserting the Yemen raid produced no significant intelligence was wrong.
NBC quoted “multiple senior officials” as saying they were unaware of valuable intelligence taken from the raid.
A second official said Trump will speak forcefully in his speech on the need to defeat what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism.” There is no plan for the president to back off on use of the term, this official said.
News reports published this week stated that the new White House national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, has sought to play down use of the term radical Islamic terrorism.
The second official said Trump remains firmly committed to using the term, an issue Trump raised extensively during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump is proposing a $54 billion increase in defense spending offset by similar cuts in foreign aid and other federal spending.