Trump at event for 4 Americans killed in Syria attack

President Donald Trump and his delegation of army and navy officers saluting as a ceremonial team carries a casket bearing Mr Scott Wirtz, a civilian employee of the US Department of Defence, who was killed along with three members of the US military
President Donald Trump and his delegation of army and navy officers saluting as a ceremonial team carries a casket bearing Mr Scott Wirtz, a civilian employee of the US Department of Defence, who was killed along with three members of the US military during a recent attack in Syria. The ceremony was held at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware.PHOTO: REUTERS

They were victims of suicide bombing claimed by ISIS after US leader declared group 'defeated'

DOVER (Delaware) • US President Donald Trump attended a silent, solemn ceremony over the weekend to receive the remains of four Americans killed in northern Syria in an attack claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

The attack took place after he declared the militants "largely defeated".

He flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan, where they walked up the cargo ramp of the C-17 cargo plane that had brought home the remains.

Inside, a chaplain said a prayer, and a loud "Amen" could be heard.

Mr Trump and the rest of his delegation, which included senior army and navy officers, emerged from the plane after several minutes to stand at attention, saluting.

A six-member Navy ceremonial team then brought out a flag-draped casket bearing former Navy Seal Scott Wirtz, who was working as a Department of Defence civilian when he was killed.

About 100 people who had connections to the victims watched as the team slow-marched the casket to a waiting van.

Then came caskets with the other victims - a soldier, a navy cryptologic technician and a civilian contractor.

 
 
 
 

Mr Trump had earlier tweeted that he would be in Dover "with the families of 4 very special people who lost their lives in service to our Country!"

Nineteen people, including the four Americans, were killed last Wednesday in a suicide bombing at a small restaurant in the flashpoint northern Syrian town of Manbij. It was the deadliest attack on American troops since they were deployed to Syria in 2014 to assist local forces against ISIS.

It came after Mr Trump's announcement last month that he was ordering a full withdrawal of the 2,000 US troops from Syria, shocking allies and leading to the resignation of Defence Secretary James Mattis.

Senior US officials have since given contradictory statements about US intentions. But the Pentagon said it had begun the withdrawal, although it was unclear how long that would take.

After sweeping across swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, the ISIS' cross-border "caliphate" has been erased by multiple offensives and is now confined to a tiny embattled enclave in eastern Syria close to the Iraqi border.

But despite the stinging defeats, ISIS has proved it is still capable of carrying out deadly attacks using hideouts in the sprawling desert or sleeper cells in the towns.

Mr Trump told reporters last Saturday that his Syria policy had made progress but that some work remained in destroying ISIS targets. He defended his plans for a withdrawal.

"It's moving along very well but when I took over, it was a total mess. But 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," he said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Trump ally and an influential voice on foreign policy who has criticised the Syria plan, suggested the President's stance emboldened ISIS militants and "set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we're fighting". He urged Mr Trump to reconsider.

Mr Trump previously travelled to Dover in 2017, shortly after his presidency began, for the return of the remains of a Navy Seal who died during a raid in Yemen.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2019, with the headline 'Trump at event for 4 Americans killed in Syria attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe