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White House says Yemen raid that killed Navy SEAL 'is a successful operation by all standards'

The White House on Thursday stood by its characterization of a covert counter-terrorism operation in Yemen as a success, a day after after the Pentagon concluded that civilians were likely killed and President Trump honored the Navy SEAL gunned down in the assault.

"It's hard to ever call something a complete success, when you have the loss of life or people injured," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. Chief Special Warfare Operator William "Ryan" Owens, 36, was the first known combat fatality of Trump's presidency.

"But I think when you look at the totality of what was gained to prevent the future loss of life ... it is a successful operation by all standards," Spicer added.

Trump traveled Wednesday to Dover Air Force Base to join Owens' family as his remains were returned to the U.S.

Three other U.S. service members were also wounded in the raid, and more than a dozen women and children were killed. U.S. officials have said some of the women were militants, but after images surfaced on social media of the bodies of dead women and children, purportedly from the raid, the Pentagon acknowledged late Wednesday that civilians were also likely killed.

The operation was planned as an assault on what U.S. officials had concluded was likely a headquarters for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of the terrorist group that itself has repeatedly attacked in the West. It claimed responsibility for the massacre at Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris in 2015 that killed 12.

U.S. officials wanted to gather computers and other electronics believed to contain intelligence about the group.

In a statement Sunday, Trump called the raid "successful," noting that 14 militants were killed and that intelligence was seized "that will assist the U.S. in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world."

But the raid devolved unexpectedly into a firefight, killing Owens and wounding the other service members, in addition to the women and children.

Amid new reports raising questions about the operation, Spicer offered an unusually detailed public accounting of the decision-making process, emphasizing that planning for the operation began during the Obama administration.

The Pentagon signed off on the operation Dec. 19 and other agencies gave their approval in the ensuing weeks. Among the conclusions, Spicer said, was to wait to launch the raid until the next moonless night, which would not occur until after Trump took office.

On Jan. 24, the new Defense secretary, James Mattis, conveyed his support for the operation and forwarded it to the White House.

Trump dined the next day with an expanded team including Mattis, Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, senior counselor Jared Kushner, chief strategist Steve Bannon, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and military leaders including Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford.

"The indication at that time was to go ahead," Spicer said. "This was a very, very well-thought-out and executed effort."

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