DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del (AP) – A solemn procession. A long salute. A chaplain’s prayer.
United States (US) President Donald Trump travelled to Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base last Saturday to pay his respects to the returning remains of four Americans who were killed last week in a suicide bomb attack in Syria.
The bombing, which was the deadliest assault on US troops in Syria since American forces moved into the country in 2015, came as Trump prepares to pull US troops out of Syria. And it underscored the threat still posed by Islamic State militants, even as Trump has claimed the group’s defeat.
The President stood solemnly and saluted the remains of civilian Scott A Wirtz of St Louis, Missouri, as his body was carried from a C-17 military aircraft into a waiting van on a bitterly cold, wind-whipped tarmac.
Earlier, he, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan accompanied a small group of Army and Navy officers as they walked up the plane’s cargo ramp, where a chaplain said a prayer.
Wirtz and the three other Americans – Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R Farmer, Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent and an unnamed civilian contractor – were killed in a suicide bombing last Wednesday in the northern Syrian town of Manbij. Wirtz had been assigned to the Defence Intelligence Agency as an operations support specialist.
The three other transfers were conducted privately, with the President observing. He also spent time with the families of those killed. Trump told reporters as he left the White House last Saturday that meeting the relatives of the country’s fallen heroes “might be the toughest thing” he has to do as president. In discussing his withdrawal decision, Trump has repeatedly referenced how much he dislikes making calls and writing letters to the families of those killed while serving overseas.
The trip was not listed on the President’s public schedule that was released last Friday night, but he tweeted the news in the morning.
“Will be leaving for Dover to be with the families of 4 very special people who lost their lives in service to our Country!” he wrote.
The visit came during a budget fight that has consumed Washington for the past month, shuttering parts of the federal government and leaving hundreds of thousands of workers without pay. Raising the stakes in his dispute with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the President on Thursday abruptly cancelled her military flight, hours before she and a congressional delegation were to depart for Afghanistan on a previously undisclosed visit to US troops.
Trump delivered a speech later Saturday in which he offered to extend temporary protections for young people brought to the US illegally as children in exchange for billions for his long-stalled border wall. But while Trump cast the move as a “common-sense compromise,” Democrats were quick to dismiss it at a “non-starter.”
Trump has made one other visit to Dover during his presidency, soon after taking office. On February 1, 2017, Trump honoured the returning remains of a US Navy SEAL killed in a raid in Yemen. Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, a 36-year-old from Peoria, Illinois, was the first known US combat casualty of Trump’s presidency.
In a December 19 tweet announcing the withdrawal from Syria, Trump declared, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” He said the troops would begin coming home “now.”
That plan triggered immediate pushback from military leaders and led to the resignation of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.
Over the past month, Trump and others have appeared to adjust the timeline, and US officials have suggested it will likely take several months to safely withdraw the approximately 2,000 US troops from Syria.