Days after a U.S. counterterrorism raid targeting al Qaeda in Yemen on January 29, President Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump went to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to witness the return of the remains for Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, the 36-year-old Navy SEAL who died during the raid. It was reported that the Trumps met with Owens’s family, but over the weekend Owens’s father, Bill, revealed that he refused to meet with the president.
Owens told the Miami Herald that the family only found out the Trumps were coming a short time before the ceremony. “I told them I didn’t want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him,” he said. Owens and his wife sat in another room as other family members met with the president.
Owens, who is a veteran, told the paper that he didn’t vote for Trump and was disturbed by his feud with a Gold Star family during the campaign. Now he has concerns about how the raid that killed his son was carried out, and he’s calling for an investigation.
“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.
According to multiple reports, just about everything went wrong during the raid. While the mission had been planned by the Obama administration, Trump was given final approval. The White House said the president was briefed on the mission during a dinner with then–National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Vice-President Mike Pence, Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and other top aides. Owens was the only U.S. service member killed, but five other U.S. military personnel were injured. A number of civilians, including children, were also killed.
Despite reports that the mission failed its primary objective — to capture or kill Qassim al-Rimi, the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted that it was “a huge success,” and said anyone who suggested otherwise was disrespecting Ryan Owens.
President Trump also mentioned Owens in a series of tweets attacking Senator John McCain for questioning the mission.
“Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation,” said Bill Owens. “I want an investigation,” he added. “The government owes my son an investigation,” he said.
When asked about Bill Owens’s remarks Sunday on ABC’s This Week, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “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.”
When asked if the president would support an investigation into the Yemen raid, she said, “I would imagine that he would be supportive of that.”
The military is already conducting an investigation, which happens anytime there is an American casualty. As the Washington Post notes, Owens “appears to be calling for a formal inquiry into the decision-making process for the raid, which probably means it would fall on Congress to open an investigation.” He did not respond to requests for clarification.
In an interview with New York Chuck Hagel, who served as secretary of Defense under President Obama in 2013 and 2014, said he did not want to second-guess what happened during the Yemen raid, since he does not have all the facts and such missions are always dangerous. But he did weigh in on reports that the operation was reviewed by the president over dinner:
I heard that, yeah. I don’t know if it’s the case, but I’ll tell you, you can’t sit down around a dinner table with the president, and say, “Okay, let’s go do it.” When I was secretary of Defense with President Obama, these decisions were made by a full-blown National Security Council. You had the FBI director, the CIA director, the National Director of Intelligence there. The Attorney General was there. You had everybody in there.
This needs to really, really be worked through. Timing is always huge, because there’s always a certain amount of nature that plays into this. You’ve got to do these usually when there’s not a full moon, or you look for rain or dust storms, and then you’ve got to have good enough intelligence. It’s not just sitting down at a dinner table saying, “Well, we’re ready to go.” Obama took hours going through this, and consulted everybody, examined every piece, and still everything was risky.