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Trump makes visit to honour US Navy Seal killed in Yemen raid
The father of a Navy Seal killed in a raid in Yemen last month has demanded an investigation into the planning and timing of what he called a “stupid mission”.
Bill Owens also told the Miami Herald he refused to meet Donald Trump when he and the president went to Dover air force base in Delaware to receive the casket carrying his son, William “Ryan” Owens.
“My conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him,” he said.
The younger Owens was the only US fatality in the 29 January raid on a suspected al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula compound. Three US personnel were injured and the Pentagon said 14 militants were killed. One US aircraft was destroyed after being damaged on landing.
According to accounts given by villagers to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 25 civilians died including women and nine children under the age of 13. The toll prompted requests from Yemen for the US to rethink its counter-terrorism strategy.
Among the casualties was an eight-year-old girl, the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen and al-Qaida propagandist who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
Trump approved the operation, which was conceived under the Obama administration, over dinner with advisers including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; special adviser and former Breitbart executive Steve Bannon; the then national security adviser Mike Flynn; CIA director Mike Pompeo; and defense secretary Jim Mattis.
US military sources told the New York Times “everything went wrong” in the raid, which turned into an hour-long firefight.
Speaking to the Herald, Owens said the family requested a private repatriation ceremony and questioned why the president approved the raid a week after taking office.
“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration?” he said. “Why?
“For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen – everything was missiles and drones – because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?’’
A day after the raid, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, told media the president was not in the Situation Room as the raid progressed. A tweet sent from Trump’s personal account while the raid was ongoing announced a forthcoming interview with the Christian Broadcast Network.
“He was obviously aware of the strike occurring,” Spicer said. “He was kept in constant contact Saturday night of the status of the mission, both of the success that it had and the tragic loss of life that occurred to that member.”
The White House has consistently portrayed the raid as a success. On 8 February, Spicer told reporters the raid was “absolutely a success, and I think anyone who would suggest it’s not a success does disservice to the life of Chief [Petty Officer] Ryan Owens.
“He fought knowing what was at stake in that mission. And anybody who would suggest otherwise doesn’t fully appreciate how successful that mission was.”
Trump himself has attacked critics of the raid, including John McCain. On 9 February, the president wrote on Twitter: “Sen[ator] McCain should not be talking about the success or failure of a mission to the media. Only emboldens the enemy!
“He’s been losing so long he doesn’t know how to win anymore, just look at the mess our country is in – bogged down in conflict all over the place. Our hero Ryan died on a winning mission (according to General Mattis), not a ‘failure’. Time for the US to get smart and start winning again!”
Bill Owens told the Herald that Trump should not “hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation”.
He also said he told a chaplain at the airbase: “I’m sorry, I don’t want to see him. I told them I don’t want to meet the president. I told them I didn’t want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him.”
In a statement to the Herald, a White House spokesman, Michael Short, said Ryan Owens was “an American hero who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his country”.
On Sunday, a White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, told ABC’s This Week she believed the president would support an investigation of the raid.
“As a parent, I can’t imagine the loss that [Bill Owens] has suffered,” Huckabee Sanders said. “I think every American owes his son a great deal of gratitude. We are forever in his son’s debt. I know that he paid the ultimate sacrifice when he went on that mission.
“And I know that the mission has a lot of different critics, but it did yield a substantial amount of very important intel and resources that helped save American lives and other lives.”
Asked if Trump would support an investigation, Huckabee Sanders said: “I haven’t had the chance to speak with him directly about that, but I would imagine that he would be supportive of that.”