Military acknowledges error in release of video from Yemen raid

Posted at 3:47 PM, Feb 03, 2017

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The US military is scrambling to explain an embarrassing mix-up after it released video obtained from Sunday's raid in Yemen that turned out to have already been published online.

A military spokesman acknowledged it was released without having been thoroughly analyzed.

The video was meant to demonstrate the value of the weekend raid whose stated aim was to recover key intelligence about al Qaeda. But the footage released Friday morning actually consisted of video that was previously available to the public.

The video was pulled because "we didn't want to make it appear that we were trying to pass off old video," said US Central Command spokesman Col. John Thomas. The mistake was due "to our lack of having time to properly analyze it."

"We were trying to provide an example of some of the things recovered on the raid," Thomas said.

Thomas was adamant there was no pressure to release anything. He insisted it was CENTCOM'S decision alone to put out the video and not an order from above.




A second defense official agreed that there was no White House pressure. The official said that the desire to get this out came from a subordinate Special Operations unit involved in the raid frustrated by the politicization and coverage of the mission. The Pentagon quickly approved the idea when broached by CENTCOM, the official added.

A White House official told CNN it was not involved in the Pentagon's decision to release video of the January raid in Yemen.

The video that was released is nine years old, according to US CENTCOM officials.

But the military said the footage, even if not fresh, was still of value.

"It does not matter when the video was made. It is still illustrative of who they are and what their intentions are," said Capt. Jeff Davis, Pentagon spokesman.

Ahead of the botched video release, Thomas had said that "the videos are one example of the volumes of sensitive al Qaeda terror-planning information recovered during the operation."

He added, "What was captured from the site has already afforded insights into al Qaeda leadership, AQAP (Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula) methods of exporting terror, and how they communicate."

CENTCOM said the remainder of the recovered information will remain classified.

President Donald Trump will visit US Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida on Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced Friday. He said the President will receive briefings from military officials there and deliver an "all hands" address to US troops.

Post-raid analysis has determined that several of the 14 AQAP operatives killed in the raid were terrorist network leaders and facilitators, according to CENTCOM. The dead include Sultan al Dhahab and Abd-al-Ra'uf al-Dhahab, two longstanding AQAP operational planners and weapons experts.

An official at Central Command, which oversees US military operations in the Middle East, described the clips as excerpts from "al Qaeda terrorist training videos," saying the release offers "a first look" at what the military recovered.

The information was seized from a staging area, propaganda center and logistics hub for AQAP's terrorist network this past weekend. The military said the operation, known as a "site exploitation" raid, was geared toward collecting as much intelligence on the terror group as possible to facilitate future raids and strikes against al Qaeda and prevent terror attacks around the world.

In the wake of the Obama administration's raid that killed al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, the military released videos that were among the trove of documents and computers seized in that operation.

The release of the new video clips comes as news has emerged regarding how the raid was authorized during the first days of Trump's presidency.

Former National Security Council staff under President Barack Obama criticized what they said were the Trump White House's attempts to attribute the operation's approval to the previous administration. The raid left one Navy SEAL dead, three wounded and led to civilian casualties.

Trump provided final approval for the raid because it required a presidential green light, but it was months in the making and was okayed at several levels before getting to the President's desk. Trump staffers, military officials and Obama-era Pentagon officials have said that the raid was also approved by commanders and Obama's defense secretary.

Operational details, including the need for a moonless night, pushed the mission window back after January 20.

As US Navy SEALs and special forces from the UAE approached the al Qaeda compound in Yemen, they were detected. An intense firefight broke out that killed Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens and wounded three additional SEALs.

During the gun battle, which featured small arms fire, hand grenades and close air support strikes from US aircraft, al Qaeda fighters -- including some female combatants -- took up firing positions on the roof of a nearby building. As the US troops came under fire, they called in an airstrike against the building, which likely led to civilian casualties, military officials said.

The group is thought to be the most capable of al Qaeda's franchises. Besides the "shoebomber," the group was also behind the 2013 Boston Marathon attack, a 2010 plot to put bombs on cargo planes bound for two Jewish targets in the US and the deadly 2015 attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris.

This story has been updated throughout to explain the mix-up over the video released by CENTCOM. Updates will continue as more information is available.