President honors 4 Americans killed in Syria attack
A solemn procession. A long salute. A chaplain’s prayer.
President Donald Trump traveled to Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base on Saturday to pay his respects to the returning remains of four Americans who were killed this week in a suicide bomb attack in Syria.
The bombing, which was the deadliest assault on U.S. troops in Syria since American forces moved into the country in 2015, came as Trump prepares to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.
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.
Wirtz and the three other Americans were killed in a suicide bombing Wednesday in the northern Syrian town of Manbij. He had been assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency as an operations support specialist.
The three other transfers were to be 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 on Saturday that meeting the relatives of the country’s fallen heroes “might be the toughest thing” he has to do as president.
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. Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, a 36-year-old from Peoria, Illinois, was the first known U.S. combat casualty since Trump became president.
In a Dec. 19 tweet announcing the withdrawal from Syria, Trump said, “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 Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Over the past month, Trump and others have appeared to adjust the time line, and U.S. officials have suggested it will likely take several months to safely withdraw American forces from Syria.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack in Manbij, which killed 19 people, including the four Americans.
Trump said before arriving in Dover that IS has lost almost all its territory but “that doesn’t mean you’re not going to have somebody around.” He also said “we can be pulling back but we’ve been hitting ISIS very hard over the last three weeks … and it’s moving along very well.”
President Donald Trump salutes as a U.S. Navy team carries the remains of Scott A. Wirtz on Saturday at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Wirtz, a former Navy SEAL from St. Louis, Mo., was killed Wednesday in Syria.