President Donald J. Trump paid tribute to Navy Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens, who was killed in a Jan. 29 raid in Yemen that U.S. officials say yielded valuable intelligence.
Trump, who traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware yesterday to receive the remains of Owens in a dignified transfer ceremony, hailed the special warfare operator as a hero.
"He died in defense of our nation. He gave his life in defense of our people. Our debt to him and our debt to his family is eternal and everlasting," Trump said at the National Prayer Breakfast here today.
The ceremony to receive the fallen hero was poignant -- "very, very sad, but very, very beautiful," Trump said.
Owens, 36, of Peoria, Illinois, was assigned to a special warfare unit based on the U.S. East Coast, Pentagon officials said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family," Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters at the Pentagon today. "Chief Owens gave his life in the line of duty while carrying out this important mission."
'Valuable and Actionable Intelligence'
The raid yielded "valuable and actionable intelligence" against a determined enemy that has "callous disrespect for human life," Davis said. "[Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] remains the most capable of al-Qaida's elements in exporting terror to the West," he added.
Davis pointed out that a statement from U.S. Central Command said a team designated by the operational task force commander has concluded that civilian noncombatants likely were killed in the midst of a firefight during the raid, and that the casualties may include children.
"These appear to have been people caught up in aerial gunfire that was called in to assist U.S. forces who were in contact against a determined enemy that included armed women fighting from prepared fighting positions," he said.
"The U.S. special operations members receiving fire from all sides, to include houses and other buildings, required the supporting fire to be able to extract," Davis told reporters.
The raid against the compound resulted in the seizure of "materials and information that will yield valuable intelligence to help partner nations deter and prevent future terror attacks in Yemen and across the world," Davis said.
Details of Raid
White House spokesman Sean Spicer described the raid as a "very, very well thought-out and executed effort." U.S. Central Command, he said, submitted the plan for the raid Nov. 7. The Defense Department approved the plan Dec. 19 and recommended that it be moved ahead, then it was sent to the National Security Council staff, Spicer explained.
On Jan. 6, an interagency deputies meeting took place, with the deputies recommending the raid take place, he said.
"The conclusion was at that time to hold it for what they called a 'moonless night,' which by calendar wouldn't occur until then-President-elect Trump was President Trump," Spicer said.
On Jan 24, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis read the memo and sent it back up to the White House conveying his support, Spicer said. On Jan. 25, Trump was briefed by National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, he said.
The president then held a dinner meeting with a number of top officials including Mattis, as well as Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
"The indication at that time was to go ahead," Spicer said. Though it wasn’t a necessary step, he added, the deputies committee met again the morning of Jan. 26 and reaffirmed its support for the raid. The president signed the memo authorizing the action that day, Spicer said.
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)