Skip to main content

Dead US soldier's father calls for probe into Trump's Yemen raid

Bill Owens says government owes him investigation into disastrous raid ordered by Trump six days into his presidency
The Trumps head to Dover air base for the return of William Owens' body from Yemen (AFP)

The father of a US Navy commando killed in a raid in Yemen criticised President Donald Trump's decision to give the go-ahead and called for an investigation in an interview published on Sunday.

Bill Owens, the father of William Owens, told the Miami Herald that he refused to speak to Trump when his son's flag-draped coffin was brought home.

"I told them I didn't want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn't let me talk to him," Owens said.

"Don't hide behind my son's death to prevent an investigation," Owens told the Herald. "I want an investigation.… The government owes my son an investigation."

The raid on Yakla, in the remote Bayda province of Yemen, was launched on 29 January, six days into Trump's presidency. It quickly ran into trouble.

Reports suggested militants in the village had laid minefields and were waiting in machine gun nests.

The commandos received fire from all sides as they attacked the objective, an al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula camp.

Air cover was called in and a V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft crash-landed during the fight and had to be destroyed on the ground.

Dozens of people were killed in the operation, including at least 16 civilians - eight women and eight children, a Yemeni provincial official said.

Other reports said a mother and her unborn baby were killed. Residents told Middle East Eye that the raid was a "massacre" of civilians as US troops moved from house to house looking for their targets.

Owens was killed and six other US commandos were injured - three in the battle and three in the crash.

US intelligence sources said the raid failed to capture or kill the principal target - Qassim al-Rimi, an AQAP leader in Yemen.

Republican Senator John McCain called the operation a failure, but the White House hailed it as a success and said its detractors dishonoured Owens' memory.

The White House has said Trump was briefed about the operation over dinner by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and signed the memo authorising it the following day, 26 January.

Reports afterwards said that the plan had been rejected by Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, as being too hazardous to launch.

"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 said.

"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?"

White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she had not spoken directly with Trump about it "but I would imagine that he would be supportive of that".

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.