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. An 8-year-old American girl was among 30 others killed in the operation on an al-Qaida compound, and three other U.S. service members were wounded.
Trump’s trip to Delaware’s Dover Air Base was shrouded in secrecy. It was not on the president’s daily schedule. A small group of journalists traveled with Trump on the condition that the visit was not reported until his arrival. He was joined by his daughter, Ivanka.
Dover has long been the point of entry for fallen U.S. service members returning home. Former President Barack Obama lifted a ban on media coverage of the dignified transfer ceremonies, though families may still request privacy.
Owens’ family is said to have asked that his return be kept private. A recipient of two bronze stars, a Joint Service Commendation and an Afghanistan Campaign Medal, among others, Owens joined the Navy in 1998 and received his special warfare training in Coronado, California. 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.
Sunday’s pre-dawn raid—which a defense official said was planned by the Obama administration but authorized by Trump—could signal a new escalation against extremist groups in Yemen. More than half a dozen militant suspects were among those killed. The operation also took the life of the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric and U.S. citizen who was targeted and killed by a drone strike in 2011.