News / Asia

Obama Honors Troops Killed in Afghan Crash

President Barack Obama is greeted by Col. Mark Camerer, the 436th Airlift Wing Commander, upon his arrival at Dover Air Force Base, Dover, Delaware, August 9, 2011
President Barack Obama is greeted by Col. Mark Camerer, the 436th Airlift Wing Commander, upon his arrival at Dover Air Force Base, Dover, Delaware, August 9, 2011

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  • Van Williams, Public Affairs Chief of Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, Dover Air Force Base, speaking to reporters Tuesday during President Obama's visit

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U.S. President Barack Obama made a solemn trip to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Tuesday, to honor the 30 American and eight Afghan troops killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

Obama paid his respects as the remains of the fallen soldiers, including 22 members of the elite Navy SEALs, were brought home on two military cargo planes.  

The White House said President Obama later met with about 250 family and friends of the dead who had gathered at the base, and expressed his condolences and gratitude for the troops' sacrifice.

Tuesday's arrival ceremony in Delaware was closed to the media. The Pentagon said that because the military has not been able to identify the remains of any of the victims, including those of the Afghans, next-of-kin were not in a position to grant approval for media access to the transfer ceremony.  

Remains of the seven Afghan commandos and an Afghan interpreter will be returned to Afghanistan once they are identified.

Van Williams, Public Affairs Chief of Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, Dover Air Force Base, speaking to reporters Tuesday during President Obama's visit

"The group today are unidentifiable.  And that is because the crash that they were in was so horrific, and the state of the remains - there was no easy way to look and see, 'This is this person, this is that person.'  They were all together.  And so when they are unidentifiable...When they are unidentifiable, the circumstances change, because we cannot say to a family member, 'This is your loved one.  Do you want media? And so on and so forth.'  Because we cannot say that with any fidelity.  And so they are treated as one particular group."

"It is a very big source of pride and a sense of duty and honor that we give to the fallen service members and their families.  We represent the nation, and a grateful nation at that.  And to speak with the airmen on the advance team that go out, they are making sure that that transfer case is perfect.  Because they want it to be right for that fallen person and for the family, who is going through the worst time of their lives, seeing their loved one taken off the aircraft,"
said Van Williams, Public Affairs Chief of Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, Dover Air Force Base.

Insurgents are believed to have shot down the Chinook transport helicopter Saturday, during an anti-Taliban operation in the remote Tangi Valley of Afghanistan's central Wardak province.  But NATO says it does not know the exact cause of the crash and an investigation is under way.

Aaron Vaughn, right, and his wife, Kimberly. Vaughn, a 30-year-old father of two, was among the Navy SEALs killed in Afghanistan.
Aaron Vaughn, right, and his wife, Kimberly. Vaughn, a 30-year-old father of two, was among the Navy SEALs killed in Afghanistan.

U.S. Central Command, meanwhile, named Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Colt to lead an investigation into the incident.   Central Command said Tuesday the investigation will review the circumstances surrounding the crash.

The crash is the worst loss of life suffered by U.S. forces in a single incident during the decade-long war in Afghanistan.  

On Monday, President Obama said the loss of the 30 American troops is "a stark reminder" of the risks that U.S. forces take every day.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, with international troop and Afghan civilian deaths reaching record levels.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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