President Trump made an unannounced trip to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware on Wednesday to honor the returning remains of U.S. Navy SEAL killed in a weekend raid in Yemen.
Chief Special Warfare Operator William Ryan Owens is the first known U.S. combat casualty since Mr. Trump took office.
More than six militant suspects were killed in the operation on an Al Qaeda compound, which also wounded three U.S. service members.
More than a dozen civilians were killed during the raid.
Mr. Trump’s trip was shrouded in secrecy; the President departed the White House with his daughter Ivanka in the presidential helicopter with their destination unannounced. Mr. Trump commented on the trip at the swearing-in of Rex Tillerson, after returning to the White House.
“I just returned from an amazing visit with a great, great family at Dover. It is something very sad, very beautiful. Ryan, a great man.”
In a two-hour visit to the base, Trump met with Owen’s family, who had requested the visit and returning of the remains to be private.
President Barack Obama had lifted the media coverage ban on casualty return, but the families can still request privacy.
The 36-year-old from Peoria, Illinois, joined the Navy in 1998 and was the recipient of a Joint Service Commendation, two Bronze stars, and an Afghanistan Campaign Medal, among other accomplishments and honors.
The Navy Special Command called him a “devoted father, a true professional, and a wonderful husband,” in a statement released following his death.
The number of troops serving in combat is far fewer than in wars Trump’s predecessors led in Afghanistan and Iraq, but there are still thousands of Americans in hotspots around the world.
The largest number of troops are training and advising local forces in Afghanistan (8,400) where the longest U.S. war continues. More than 5,000 in Iraq and around 500 U.S. troops in Syria are involved in the campaign against the so-called Islamic State group. There is also U.S. involvement in Yemen where it engages in counterterrorism operations – mainly drone strike – a country where Al Qaeda has exploited the chaos of civil war.
The Sunday pre-dawn raid which was authorized by Trump, but planned by the Obama administration, could result in a new escalation against extremist groups in Yemen.
The trip to Dover comes at a time when President Trump is weighing his options about reshaping U.S. troops around the world. Trump had vowed to be tougher on the Islamic State as a candidate, and at one point during the election campaign, he said he would be willing to send 30,000 U.S. troops to fight extremist groups in Iraq and Syria. Last week, Trump gave a 30 days deadline to Pentagon and other agencies to submit their plan to defeat ISIS.
Trump has not clarified his Afghanistan approach as of yet. Obama had pledged to end the war during his tenure, but security concerns prompted him to extend the military campaign, which handed off the war to the third American president.