First Combat Death Under Trump: Navy SEAL Killed in al-Qaeda Raid in Yemen

First Combat Death Under Trump: Navy SEAL Killed in al-Qaeda Raid in Yemen
U.S. Navy

A U.S. Navy SEAL died of injuries suffered during a January 28 raid in Yemen that killed an estimated 14 al-Qaeda jihadists, marking the first combat death under President Donald Trump.

The Pentagon has identified the January 28 fatality as 36-year-old Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens from Peoria, IL.

“While multiple outlets have reported that Owens was a member of the elite Naval Special Warfare Development Group, better known as SEAL Team Six, officials would confirm only that he was a member of an East Coast-based special warfare unit,” reports

Owens died while supporting U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which is charged with U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

At least three other U.S. troops sustained wounds during the operation, reports CENTCOM.

The number of injured service members varies by news outlet, but Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Monday that an Osprey MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft assisting in the operation experienced a hard landing, resulting in three service members being injured.

Three senior leaders from the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered one of the most dangerous components of the terrorist group, were among the terrorists killed during the January 28 raid in northern Yemen’s Bayda province, according to various news reports.

Although CNN notes that “the military said there were no civilian casualties as a result of the raid,” Al Jazeera reports that at least 10 Yemeni women and children were killed during the operation, including the “eight-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki,” a former AQAP leader, and U.S.-born jihadist cleric killed in a 2011 drone strike.

The Pentagon spokesman revealed that “the casualties in Yemen are being assessed,” adding that AQAP female fighters “ran to pre-established positions as if they’d trained to be ready and trained to be combatants and engage with us. So, some of the enemy killed in combat are in fact female.”

President Trump authorized the operation, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) learned from an anonymous defense official.

“In a successful raid against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) headquarters, brave US forces were instrumental in killing an estimated 14 AQAP members and capturing important intelligence that will assist the US in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world,” the commander-in-chief said in a statement.

Trump added:

Americans are saddened this morning with news that a life of a heroic service member has been taken in our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism. The sacrifices made by the men and women of our armed forces, and the families they leave behind, are the backbone of the liberty we hold so dear as Americans, united in our pursuit of a safer nation and a freer world. My deepest thoughts and humblest prayers are with the family of this fallen service member. I also pray for a quick and complete recovery for the brave service members who sustained injuries.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our elite service members,” declared Gen. Joseph Votel, chief of CENTCOM. “The sacrifices are very profound in our fight against terrorists who threaten innocent peoples across the globe.”

AQAP has largely benefited from the security and political chaos in Yemen, seizing large swathes of territory and reaching unprecedented strength as Iran-backed Shiite Houthis and armed groups affiliated with the country’s former president fight against a U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition and forces loyal to the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

However, Capt. Davis told reporters, “The AQAP presence right now is largely coastal with some inland presence.”

Al-Qaeda and Houthi rival the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has also established a presence in Yemen.

President Trump has intensified the U.S. efforts to defeat AQAP.

The first reported U.S. drone strikes under the new president targeted the group, killing at least five jihadists, reportedly including one of the terrorist groups’ field commanders.

“This is one in a series of aggressive moves against terrorist planners in Yemen and worldwide,” notes CENTCOM, referring to the January 28 operation. “Similar operations have produced intelligence on al-Qa’ida logistics, recruiting and financing efforts.”

AQAP “continues to target U.S. and allied interests in Yemen as well as around the world,” declared the Pentagon spokesman.

The late “Owens enlisted in the Navy in 1998, serving his first enlistment with naval intelligence before volunteering for the SEALs in the months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to a limited service record provided by the Navy,” notes The Washington Post. “He finished basic SEAL training in 2002 and was sent to his first unit, located on the West Coast, in 2003.”

“Owens was previously awarded two Bronze Stars with Valor distinguishing devices and had eight Sea Service Deployment ribbons when he was killed,” it adds. “He will be posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.”


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