By Ese Olumhense
‘Stupid’ mission killed ‘American hero’
Bill Owens, the father of a Navy SEAL killed in a Jan. 28 raid in Yemen, refused to meet with President Donald Trump when the Naval non-commissioned officer’s body was returned to the United States. In an interview with The Miami Herald — his first time speaking publicly since his son’s death — Owens criticized and urged the White House to investigate the mission in which Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens was killed.
“I told them I didn’t want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him,” Owens, also a Navy veteran, told The Herald Friday.
Owens was the only military fatality in the late January operation, an undertaking that his father feels the Trump administration may have planned hastily. Trump reportedly gave his approval for the raid just days after he took office, over dinner.
“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why?” Owens asked. “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?”
In a statement to The Herald Saturday, White House spokesman Michael C. Short called Owens “an American hero who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his country.” The White House did not respond to the family’s criticisms further.
Ryan Owens would have turned 37 on Sunday.
‘Just about everything went wrong’
Though the White House had said the mission, initially planned as a quick intelligence-gathering operation, was “highly successful,” unnamed U.S. military officials told The New York Times later that week that “just about everything went wrong.”
The resulting firefight, which reportedly lasted nearly an hour, resulted in the deaths of at least 15 women and children, among them at least one American — Nawar al-Awlaki, 8. Known as Nora, al-Awlaki was the daughter of cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was reportedly an al Qaeda recruiter and spokesman. He was killed in a 2011 U.S. drone strike; her 16-year-old brother was killed in a separate raid in 2011.
In a statement on the mission, the Pentagon confirmed that civilians were likely killed in what was a “complex situation,” but that it produced “valuable intelligence.”
In the days following the raid, some Yemeni officials publicly criticized the operation, saying the civilian casualties didn’t encourage cooperation between both countries in their anti-terrorism efforts on the Arabian peninsula.
“Yemen’s government is a key partner in the war against terrorism,” said Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, Yemeni ambassador to the U.S., in an interview with Al Jazeera. That partnership, he added, shouldn’t come “at the expense of the Yemeni citizens and the country’s sovereignty.”
‘The government owes my son an investigation’
Owens has joined the chorus imploring the Trump administration to investigate the events of that night.
“Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation,” said Owens. “I want an investigation. … The government owes my son an investigation.”
It’s not known whether the Trump administration was previously planning any inquiry into the Jan. 28 mission, but after Owens’ remarks, a senior White House spokeswoman said Trump is likely to be “supportive” of an investigation.
The administration had pushed back on criticisms of the operation in the past, most notably after Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) called the raid a “failure.” Incensed, the president took to Twitter, saying that the 2008 Republican presidential hopeful had been “losing so long he doesn’t know how to win anymore.” Press Secretary Sean Spicer also called criticisms of the mission “a disservice” to Owens.
It’s rare for the Department of Defense to investigate missions resulting in death, The Washington Post reported. It’s not clear whether Defense Secretary James Mattis, who Trump said called the raid a “winning mission,” would lead or support an investigation, either. Mattis has yet to address Bill Owens’ statements.
Congress could initiate its own investigation, but it’s unclear that the Republican-controlled bodies have the appetite to buck the president and the Defense Department.