Obama honours return of fallen soldiers


DFI Technocrat
Oct 10, 2009
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OVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. - President Barack Obama made a midnight dash to this air base Wednesday to honour the return of fallen soldiers, absorbing the ultimate cost of war as the United States endures its deadliest month of the Afghanistan campaign.

On a clear fall night, Obama flew by Marine One helicopter to Dover Air Force Base to greet the flag-draped caskets of 18 Americans killed in action this week.

After landing, the president, wearing a dark topcoat, got into a motorcade to a base chapel, where he was to meet privately with families of the fallen Americans.

Obama arrived on the base at 12:34 a.m. Thursday and was expected to be back at the White House before dawn.

A wartime president of two inherited conflicts, Obama is winding down U.S. involvement in Iraq, but the troubled war in Afghanistan is only widening. His dramatic visit to witness remains of the fallen comes as he weighs whether to send more troops into the Afghan war zone.

The White House kept Obama's plans off his schedule, informing a small group of travelling reporters in advance on condition of secrecy.

Obama was expected to observe a sombre moment on the tarmac of the base without public comment.

The Pentagon this year lifted its 18-year ban on media covering the return of fallen U.S. service members if family permission is provided. It was unclear to what degree the media would have access to covering the president's presence at the tarmac observance, based on the wishes of family members.

The Dover base, about 100 miles (160 kilometres) from the White House, is the entry point for service personnel killed overseas.

Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush, visited the families of hundreds of fallen soldiers but did not attend any military funerals or go to Dover to receive the coffins. In a 2006 interview with the military newspaper "Stars and Stripes," Bush said he felt the appropriate way to show his respect was to meet with family members in private.

Obama is in the midst of an intense, weekslong review of his war strategy in Afghanistan. He has upped the U.S. commitment there to 68,000 troops and is considering sending a large addition next year, but fewer than the 40,000 troops requested by his commander there, U.S. officials tell The Associated Press.

Most Americans either oppose the war or question whether it is worth continuing to wage.

Eight American troops were killed in two separate bomb attacks Tuesday in southern Afghanistan, pushing the total number of American troops killed in October to at least 55. That's the deadliest month of the war for U.S. forces since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban.

On Monday, a U.S. military helicopter crashed returning from the scene of a firefight with suspected Taliban drug traffickers in western Afghanistan, killing 10 Americans including three Drug Enforcement Administration agents. In a separate crash, four more U.S. troops were killed when two helicopters collided over southern Afghanistan. On Tuesday, eight soldiers were killed when their personnel vehicles was struck by roadside bombs in the Afghanistan's Kandahar province.

An Air Force C-17 cargo plane arrived at Dover after midnight carrying the bodies of 18 fallen personnel from Afghanistan, including the 10 Americans killed Monday and the eight soldiers the next day. Their remains were to be transferred to a waiting vehicle and then to an Air Force mortuary.

Attorney General Eric Holder, DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and the Army Special Forces Commander Brig. Gen. Michael Repass were among those in the official party receiving the coffins.

The lifting of the ban on media coverage of bodies returning to Dover was done to keep the human cost of war from being shielded from the public.

Now Obama was seeing it directly.

Obama meets Friday with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military leaders who would have the responsibility for carrying out his strategy decisions. White House officials said Obama keep considering his options with advisers over the next couple of weeks, and other war council meetings may still be called during that period.

The White House preference is to announce the troop decision after the Afghanistan's run-off presidential election on Nov. 7, but before Obama leaves for a long and unrelated trip to Asia, four days later on Nov. 11. But no announcement plan has been settled upon by Obama and his aides, officials said.

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