If there’s one thing we know, the Obama White House hates leakers. Especially leaks about sensitive national security issues.
Except when the leaks are the official kind.
It’s been interesting to see coverage of the Seal Team 6 raid in Somalia that was reportedly intended to capture a high-level member of the Al-Shabaab terrorist group. US forces, the story went, approached a compound, were spotted and fired upon, and retreated back into the ocean.
But unnamed officials are offering another explanation: the desire to protect innocent lives.
“Heeding New Counterterror Guidelines, US Forces Backed off in Somalia Raid” is the Washington Post headline (10/8/13), which explains that the Seal Team commander “had the authority to call in a US airstrike. Instead, he opted to retreat.”
The Post‘s Karen DeYoung reports that
the operation against an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group had been in the planning stages, for months, current and former Obama administration officials said Monday. A drone strike against the al-Shabab compound had been rejected, officials said, because there were too many women and children inside, the same reason that the commander opted against an airstrike once the operation was underway.
The report adds:
If civilians had not been present at the compound, a senior administration official said, “we might just as well have done a standoff strike,” hitting the site with missiles launched from piloted or unmanned aircraft. The desire to avoid hitting non-combatants, the official said, “accounts for the fact that ultimately [US forces] disengaged” when they “met resistance.”
On CBS Evening News (10/7/13) correspondent David Martin used similar language: The SEAL commander decided against an airstrike because “there were too many civilians, including children, in the compound.” He added:
Officials briefed on the operation said the SEAL commander made the right call in deciding to withdraw. The SEALs had not expected to find so many women and children, in effect human shields, inside the compound.
It’s obviously possible that this is what happened. But unnamed, semi-official briefings on these kinds of military operations–from the rescue of Jessica Lynch to the killing of Osama bin Laden–are hardly known for being accurate.
But they do provide the military a chance to claim that a raid that was apparently unsuccessful failed because US forces were so concerned about killing civilians. And that’s why, from the government’s perspective, some leaks are more helpful than others.