US President Donald Trump
Trump said McCain should not be talking about the success or failure of a mission to the media REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

President Donald Trump hit back at prominent Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain for his criticism of a controversial covert-operation in Yemen that left a Navy Seal and little girl dead.

"Sen. McCain should not be talking about the success or failure of a mission to the media," said Trump in a flurry of early-morning tweets, adding that criticism of operation "only emboldens the enemy!"

On Wednesday (8 February) McCain, a prominent Republican from Arizona, characterized the covert operation on 28 January authorised by Trump as less than successful.

"I don't think you can — when you lose a $75m (£60m) airplane, and more importantly American life is lost and wounded — I don't believe that you can call it a success," McCain told NBC News. He received a classified briefing on the raid on Tuesday (7 February).

"Obviously they didn't want to kill women or children," he added, referring to the death of eight-year-old American girl Nawar al-Awlaki during the clandestine mission. "The objective was to kill the bad guys but also capture some of them," McCain said, adding another goal was to "gain information from various electronic devices".

Some of these objectives were met, the White House said, but Navy SEAL Chief Special Warfare Operator William "Ryan" Owens was killed, along with 29 others, including 15 women and children, according to Yemeni officials.

The Marines were meant to gather intelligence on an al-Qaeda affiliate militant group. But after Navy SEALs were barraged with heavy gunfire it became an hour-long gunfight. Owens was killed and five other US soldiers were wounded in the battle and crash-landing of their Marine transport aircraft.

On Monday (6 February) NBC News cited senior military and intelligence officials who said that the leader of Yemen's al Qaeda affiliate, Qassim al-Rimi, was a secret target of the raid.

On Wednesday, Yemen's top diplomat, Abdul-Malik al-Mekhlafi, called for a "reassessment" after the mission. "Yemen continues to cooperate with the United States and continues to abide by all the agreements," he said, but added that the Yemeni government "is involved in talks with the US administration on the latest raid."

McCain has "been losing so long he doesn't know how to win anymore," Trump said, noting how the US is "bogged down in conflict all over the place".

He called Navy SEAL Ryan a "hero" who "died on a winning mission ( according to General Mattis), not a 'failure.' Time for the US to get smart and start winning again!" Trump signed off.