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Father of Navy SEAL slain in Yemen raid calls for investigation

Bill Owens, the father of a Navy SEAL killed during an anti-terrorism raid in Yemen, criticized the Trump administration for the raid's timing.

William Owens holds a photo of his youngest son Navy SEAL William 'Ryan' Owens in Lauderdale by the Sea, Fla. In the photo, Ryan Owens, who was killed during an anti-terrorism raid in Yemen, posed for a photo with then-President Barack Obama's dogs at the White House after being awarded medals for his service.
Emily Michot/Miami Herald/AP
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The father of a Navy SEAL killed during a controversial anti-terrorism raid in Yemen has demanded an investigation into the operation and its planning. 

In a Miami Herald article published Sunday, Bill Owens, father of Chief Special Warfare Officer William "Ryan" Owens, criticized the Jan. 27 raid on a suspected Al Qaeda compound – the first counter-terrorism operation under President Trump – that killed his son, the lone US fatality, along with approximately 16 civilians and 14 militants. 

"Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn't even barely a week into his administration? Why?" said Mr. Owens, a retired police detective and veteran. "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?"

Owens told the Herald that, when both he and the president came to Dover Air Force Base to receive the casket carrying his son, he refused to meet with Mr. Trump, as his "conscience wouldn't let me talk to him."

Now, he said, he wants an investigation: "The government owes my son an investigation." 

In an interview with ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she imagined the president would be "supportive" of an investigation into the raid, the aim of which was reportedly to capture information on potential Al Qaeda attacks against the United States and its allies. But Ms. Sanders also defended the operation, noting that it was planned, reviewed, and postponed during the Obama administration. 

"The mission has a lot of different critics, but it did yield a substantial amount of very important intel and resources that helped save American lives and other lives," Sanders said. 

Since the operation last month, the White House has maintained that it was a success, pointing to intelligence gathered during the raid as evidence. But others have questioned whether the raid, which killed women and children along with militants, was planned and executed properly. Among those reported casualties was 8-year-old Nawar al-Awlaki, the daughter of Yemeni-American Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a drone strike in 2011. 

"I don't believe you can call it a success," Sen. John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told NBC News earlier this month. "My understanding of the parameters of the raid were that they wanted to capture individuals, and obviously they didn't want to kill children or women." 

Yemeni officials, typically supportive of the US, also sharply criticized the operation. Nearly two weeks after the raid, the government of Yemen requested that US forces not conduct ground operations in the country without its approval.

"We have not withdrawn our permission for the United States to carry out special operations ground missions," a senior Yemeni official told Reuters at the time. "However ... we said that in the future there needs to be more coordination with Yemeni authorities before any operation and that there needs to be consideration for our sovereignty." 

White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended the operation again on Monday, saying the White House and Pentagon were "very comfortable with how the mission was executed." 

"I can tell [Owens] on behalf of the president that his son died a hero and the information that he was able to help obtain through that raid is going to save American lives. It’s going to protect our country," Mr. Spicer said. "It’s something that as a SEAL and as someone who deployed 12 times, he knew this was part of the job.

The military is conducting at least three ongoing reviews of the raid, said Pentagon spokesman Christopher Sherwood, as reported by USA Today

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.