WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday defended his response to the deaths of four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger earlier this month, promising he would reach out to their families in coming days.
He also accused previous commanders-in-chief of sometimes ignoring those mourning families, mistakenly saying they avoided calling them.
“I’ve written (those families) personal letters. They’ve been sent, or they are going out,” Trump said in a previously unannounced White House press conference Monday afternoon. “I will at some point during the time call the parents and the families, because I have done that traditionally.
“I felt very badly about that. It’s the toughest calls I have to make, the calls where this happens, soldiers are killed. It’s a very difficult thing.”
Four special forces soldiers were killed in an ambush in southwest Niger on Oct. 4 during a joint patrol with foreign troops. Officials from U.S. Africa Command said the American servicemembers were providing “advice and assistance to Nigerien security force counter-terror operations” when the attack occurred.
Trump has received criticism in recent days for failing to publicly address the issue. While White House staffers have offered condolences on behalf of the administration in recent days, Trump has not.
When asked why during Monday’s press conference, Trump said he has done more to comfort grieving families than past presidents.
“The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and others, a lot of them didn’t make calls,” he said. “I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I am able to do it. They have made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Later, when questioned about that accusation, Trump appeared to backtrack, saying he was “told” that Obama and others did not reach out to those families.
Former aides to Obama quickly took to social media to criticize Trump’s remarks.
Trump said that “I want a little time to pass” before calling the families of the troops killed in Niger, but said the letters to family members should arrive this week.
The bodies of all four fallen soldiers returned to U.S. soil last week.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.