44 The Obama Presidency
Obama to attend return of fallen soldiers, DEA agents
By Michael A. Fletcher
President Obama left the White House late Wednesday aboard Marine One bound for Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where he will attend the arrival of the remains of 18 U.S. personnel who were killed in two separate attacks in Afghanistan.
The fallen include seven soldiers and three Drug Enforcement Administration agents who died when their MH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed Monday, and eight soldiers killed Tuesday when their Stryker vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb blast in the Arghandab district of Kandahar province.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president would return to the White House about 4 a.m. The visit was not listed on Obama's public schedule, and the reporters accompanying him were told just hours before his departure.
The Air Force C-17 carrying the remains is expected to arrive at 12:19 a.m. Upon arrival, the remains will be transferred from aircraft to a waiting vehicle and then to the Air Force Mortuary Operations Center, Gibbs said. The dignified transfer is not a ceremony, but rather a solemn movement of the transfer case by a carry team of military personnel from the fallen member's respective service. A dignified transfer is conducted for every U.S. military member who dies in the theater of operation while in the service of their country. A senior ranking flag officer of the fallen member's service attends each dignified transfer.
Gibbs said the official party includes Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.; Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff; DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart; Maj Gen. Daniel Wright, the Army assistant judge advocate; Brig. Gen. Michael Repass, the Army Special Forces commander; and Col. Robert Edmondson of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center, who will serve as the dignified transfer host officer.
Obama's attendance at the solemn rite will mark an emotional moment as his administration mulls over the way forward in Afghanistan. October has been the deadliest month for U.S. troops in the eight-year-old war, adding pressure to the administration's efforts to settle on a new strategy for the war. As of earlier this week, 54 U.S. troops died in October, surpassing the previous high of 51 in August, according to iCasualties.org.
Top U.S. military commanders have said they need thousands of reinforcements to beat back the resurgent Taliban, but Obama has said he does not want to rush a decision to send more troops. His advisers have debated whether to limit U.S. goals in Afghanistan, while the military has conducted war games to test the effect of thousands of additional troops.
"I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary," Obama told a military audience in Jacksonville, Fla., on Monday. "And if it is necessary, we will back you up to the hilt."
The president's visit to the base comes six month after he ended a ban on media coverage of the arrival of fallen soldiers at Dover. The ban had been imposed nearly two decades earlier during the Persian Gulf War.
The administration of former president George H.W. Bush said the ban was aimed at protecting the privacy of the families of the dead, although many activists and other opponents of the policy alleged that it was a way of shielding the American public from the human toll of war.
Posted at 12:15 AM ET on Oct 29, 2009
44 The Obama Presidency
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