President Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base on Saturday as the remains of four Americans killed earlier this week by a suicide bomber in Syria were returned to the U.S.
Trump, who met privately with family members of the four Americans, was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.
At least 19 people were killed in Wednesday’s attack including a yet-unnamed U.S. military contractor; Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Fla.; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, of upstate New York, and Scott A. Wirtz of St. Louis, Mo., a civilian operations support specialist working for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Photos from the ceremony showed Trump and Pompeo looking on as Wirtz’s flag-draped casket was carried from a military cargo plane to a waiting van.
Three other U.S. service members were wounded in the bombing of a popular restaurant in the city of Manbij.
This is Trump’s second visit to the Delaware Air Force base to witness a dignified transfer, as the return of remains is known. In February of 2017, he paid his respects to Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens who was killed during a U.S. raid in Yemen.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for this week’s bombing — Saturday’s ceremony comes exactly one month after Trump declared victory over the group.
“We have won against ISIS. We have beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly,” Trump said in a video on Dec. 19. “Our boys, our young women, our men – they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now.”
But as he left the White House for Dover on Saturday morning, he told reporters that the U.S. has been “hitting ISIS very hard over the last three weeks.”
Earlier this week, a Pentagon spokesman said ISIS “remains a threat.” As NPR has reported:
“ISIS has lost the caliphate, or Islamic State, and almost all the territory it controlled in Syria (and Iraq) at its peak in 2014. However, many fighters are still believed to be in Syria; they’ve just gone underground.
“Many are citizens of Syria and have nowhere else to go. In addition, relatively few foreign ISIS fighters have tried to return to their home countries elsewhere in the Middle East or in the West. The Pentagon and others have estimated ISIS may still have 20,000 to 30,000 members in Syria and Iraq combined.
“For these reasons, many analysts believe ISIS retains the potential to mount a comeback, particularly as a guerrilla force waging small-scale attacks.”
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have died in Syria since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. NPR’s Daniella Cheslow noted earlier this week that Manbij, a bustling city of 100,000 people, has faced ongoing attacks from the Islamic State and that “the U.S. has been training local forces to take over patrolling duties — a handover that has been thrust into uncertainty by Trump’s December announcement the U.S. will withdraw.”
Trump announced the trip to Dover Air Force Base early Saturday morning on Twitter. It was followed by a number of other messages criticizing the news media and Mexico, and warning of an economic decline if he is impeached.
On Saturday afternoon, the president will make what he bills as a “major announcement” regarding border security and an ongoing partial government shutdown – the longest in American history. The White House has not provided further details on what the speech will address.