WASHINGTON — The father of a Navy SEAL killed during the first counterterrorism raid ordered by President Trump said he did not want to meet the commander in chief and wants an investigation into his son’s death.
SEAL Team 6 conducted an operation a month ago against a Yakla’ district compound connected to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The Pentagon and the White House said 14 enemy fighters were killed, including some women. One Navy SEAL was killed — Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, 36, of Peoria, Ill. — and three were wounded, and one MV-22 Osprey was destroyed by a U.S. strike after it crash-landed during evacuation.
Yemenis said there were multiple civilian casualties, including the 8-year-old daughter of late al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen born in New Mexico. A U.S. Central Command review team “concluded regrettably that civilian non-combatants were likely killed in the midst of a firefight” during the raid, and “casualties may include children.”
“The known possible civilian casualties appear to have been potentially caught up in aerial gunfire that was called in to assist U.S. forces in contact against a determined enemy that included armed women firing from prepared fighting positions, and U.S. special operations members receiving fire from all sides to include houses and other buildings,” CENTCOM said after its initial analysis.
President Trump flew to Dover, Del., to meet the returning remains of the fallen Navy SEAL. The meeting was private at the request of the family.
“Just returned from an amazing visit with a great, great family at Dover, and it was something — very sad, very beautiful,” Trump said back in Washington at the Feb. 1 swearing-in of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “Ryan, a great man.”
In that weekend’s address, Trump noted again that he joined the Owens family at Dover Air Force Base “as our fallen hero was returned home.”
“A great man. Chief Owens gave his life for his country and for our people. Our debt to him and his family, a beautiful family, is eternal,” he said. “God has truly blessed this nation to have given us such a brave and selfless patriot as Ryan. We will never forget him. We will never ever forget those who serve. Believe me.”
Bill Owens told the Miami Herald that he’d learned a short time before his son’t casket arrived that Trump was on the way. “I’m sorry, I don’t want to see him,’’ he told a chaplain. “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,” said Owens, also a military veteran.
“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? 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?’’
Owens said he and his wife stayed in another room while Trump met some other relatives.
“Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation,” he said of the raid. “The government owes my son an investigation… I’d like some answers about all the things that happened in the timeline that led up to it. I know what the timeline is, and it bothers me a lot.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told ABC on Sunday that she hadn’t spoken with Trump about whether he would be supportive of an investigation, “but I would imagine that he would be supportive of that.”
“I certainly can’t speak to the military, but I can say that — as a parent, I can’t imagine the loss that he has suffered. 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,” she said.
“And, as much as — again, I can’t imagine what this father is going through. I think he’s a — his son is a true American hero and we should forever be in his son’s debt.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer echoed those remarks today. “I can tell [the father] on behalf of the president that his son died a hero and the information that he was able to help obtain through that raid, as I said before, was going to save American lives.”
According to U.S. officials, the raid resulted in the seizure of electronic devices containing data useful to U.S. intelligence and partner nations.