White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday that critics of the recent raid in Yemen, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, should apologize.
Spicer was asked at a White House briefing about criticism of the raid, including comments by McCain, who said he could not describe the operation as a "success" earlier in the day. The operation left a US service member dead.
"It's absolutely a success, and I think anyone who would suggest it's not a success does disservice to the life of Chief Ryan Owens," said Spicer, citing intelligence obtained in the operation.
Spicer's comments are a shift in his analysis of last month's operation. Last week, he hesitated to call the raid "a success 100% when someone is hurt or killed, and that was the case here."
Before Spicer's briefing, McCain criticized the raid, citing the loss of life.
"While many of the objectives of the recent raid in Yemen were met, I would not describe any operation that results in the loss of American life as a success," he said in a statement.
Asked about McCain's comments at the briefing, Spicer said he had a "message" for anybody who said the mission was not a success, though he did not mention McCain by name.
"I think anybody who undermines the success of that raid owes an apology ... to the life of Chief Owens," Spicer said.
Again calling the raid a "huge success," the press secretary said the information gleaned from the raid would save US lives and prevent attacks.
"We owe (Owens) and his family a great debt for the information that we received during that raid. I think any suggestion otherwise is a disservice to his courageous life and the actions that he took. Full stop," Spicer said.
A message left with McCain's office seeking response was not immediately returned.
The January raid involved the first military death under President Donald Trump and resulted in a number of civilian casualties, including the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born al Qaeda leader killed under President Barack Obama.
It remains unclear to what extent fallout from the raid may have impacted the US relationship with Yemen. This week, reports emerged that the government of Yemen would not allow US military raids in the country without full approval. A State Department spokesman on Wednesday defended US operations in the war-torn nation, and Spicer praised the relationship of the two countries while saying he was "not in a position to go any further at this time."
"Yemen more than most countries fully appreciates the fight that we have with ISIS," Spicer said. "At this point, I'll leave it at we understand that we share that commitment with them, and we're going to continue to work with them to combat ISIS."
Tuesday's difference of opinion on the deadly raid was not the first time this week that McCain and the White House have differed.
In an interview that aired over the weekend, Trump responded to a question about Russian President Vladimir Putin's human rights abuses by saying, "You think our country's so innocent?"
Without mentioning the President by name, McCain took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to rebuke Putin as a human rights abuser and shed light on opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Putin critic currently in the hospital.