DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (AP) — Assuming the somber duties of commander in chief, President Donald Trump made an unannounced trip Wednesday to honor the returning remains of a U.S. Navy SEAL killed in a weekend raid in Yemen.
Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, a 36-year-old from Peoria, Illinois, was the first known U.S. combat casualty since Trump took office less than two weeks ago. More than half a dozen militant suspects were also killed in the raid on an al-Qaida compound and three other U.S. service members were wounded.
An 8-year-old American girl was among more than a dozen civilians killed in the operation.
Trump’s trip to Delaware’s Dover Air Base was shrouded in secrecy. The president and his daughter, Ivanka, departed the White House in the presidential helicopter with their destination unannounced. A small group of journalists traveled with Trump on the condition that the visit was not reported until his arrival.
Marine One landed at Dover shortly before a C-17 believed to be carrying Owens’ remains touched down. The president met with Owens’ family during a two-hour visit to the base. The sailor’s family had requested that Trump’s visit and the return of Owens’ remains be private.
Former President Barack Obama lifted a ban on media coverage of the casualty returns, though families may still request privacy. A spokeswoman at Dover said about half of families choose to allow media coverage.
Owens joined the Navy in 1998 and was the recipient of two Bronze stars, a Joint Service Commendation and an Afghanistan Campaign Medal, among other honors. In a statement following his death, the Navy Special Command called Owens a “devoted father, a true professional and a wonderful husband.”
His death underscores the human costs of the military campaigns Trump now oversees. Far fewer troops are serving in combat now than in the wars Trump’s predecessors led in Afghanistan and Iraq, but thousands of Americans remain in hotspots around the world.
In Afghanistan, where America’s longest war continues, about 8,400 U.S. troops are training and advising local forces. More than U.S. 5,100 troops in Iraq and about 500 in Syria are involved in the campaign against the Islamic State group. The U.S. also engages in counterterrorism operations — mainly drone strikes — in Yemen, where Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has exploited the chaos of the country’s civil war.
(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)