President Donald Trump embarked Saturday on an unannounced trip to Dover Air Force Base to meet with the families of four Americans killed in a suicide bombing in Syria last week.
The president’s visit on a gray, frigid morning follows renewed skepticism surrounding his administration’s directive last month to withdraw the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in Syria, and comes just hours before Trump is scheduled to deliver an address on the partial government shutdown that entered its fifth week on Saturday.
Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, Trump described his upcoming trip to the Delaware base as the most difficult task of a commander in chief.
“When I’m going to meet relatives of some of our great great heroes that have fallen, I think it might be the toughest thing I have to do as president,” he said.
But Trump continued to defend a Middle East foreign policy that has provoked uncertainty among regional leaders in recent weeks and contributed in part to the resignation of his former Defense secretary, James Mattis.
“We’ve been hitting ISIS very hard over the last three weeks, in particular over the last three weeks, and it’s moving along very well. But when I took over it was a total mess,” Trump said, alleging that his administration had vanquished “about 99 percent” of the territorial caliphate.
“You do have to ask yourself — we’re killing ISIS for Russia, for Iran, for Syria, for Iraq, for a lot of other places. At some point, you want to bring our people back home,” the president added, before boarding Air Force One with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing, the deadliest assault on U.S. forces in Syria since they entered the country in 2015.
The Pentagon has identified three of the four Americans killed as: Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida, who was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, of Pine Plains, New York, and based at Fort Meade, Maryland; and civilian Scott A. Wirtz from St. Louis.
The Pentagon has not identified the fourth casualty, a civilian contractor.
Congressional Democrats in recent days have seized upon the service members’ deaths in the northern city of Manbij as evidence that the Trump administration’s troop drawdown in Syria is a poorly considered military maneuver. And Vice President Mike Pence faced blowback for declaring during a speech Wednesday at the State Department shortly after the bombing that “[t]he caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated.”
Trump first announced his trip via Twitter early Saturday, writing online: “Will be leaving for Dover to be with the families of 4 very special people who lost their lives in service to our Country!”
The president, appearing at the base this weekend, scaled the loading ramp of a C-17 cargo plane at 12:15 p.m., participating in a prayer among the four caskets on board before descending back to the tarmac, according to pool reports.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his top diplomat, his Pentagon chief and a cadre of senior military officials, Trump remained locked in a salute as a team of six Navy servicemen dressed in camouflage carried out the first of the “dignified transfers” — marching the flag-draped transfer case containing Wirtz’s remains to a nearby minivan, and loading it inside.
Trump has made one other visit to Dover during his presidency, soon after taking office. On Feb. 1, 2017, Trump honored the returning remains of a U.S. Navy SEAL killed in a raid in Yemen, according to the Associated Press. Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, 36, of Peoria, Illinois, was the first known U.S. combat casualty since Trump became president.
Author: Quint Forgey
Source: Politico: Trump visits air base to meet families of Americans killed in Syria