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Obama Attends Return of Fallen US Soldiers From Afghanistan

By VOA News
29 October 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama made an overnight trip to a military air base in the state of Delaware to meet a plane carrying the bodies of 18 U.S. soldiers and civilian personnel recently killed in Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama took off from the White House lawn aboard the presidential helicopter late Wednesday night for Dover Air Force Base. The trip was revealed only to a small group of reporters on condition of secrecy.

The president held a private meeting with the families of the fallen Americans at a base chapel after his arrival.

An Air Force cargo plane transported the bodies of eight U.S. soldiers killed Tuesday in a series of bomb attacks in southern Afghanistan, plus seven other soldiers and three Drug Enforcement Administration agents killed the day before in the crash of a military helicopter.

The deaths made October the deadliest month for U.S. forces since the invasion that toppled Afghanistan's Taliban in late 2001.

Mr. Obama and officials boarded the cargo plane as a military chaplain prayed over the casket of Army Sergeant Dale Griffin. After a few moments, they formed a line on the tarmac and saluted as six soldiers carried Griffin's casket off the plane and into a waiting vehicle.

Griffin's family was the only one to give journalists permission to cover what the Pentagon describes as a "dignified transfer." Earlier this year, the Pentagon lifted an 18-year-old ban on media coverage of the return of fallen U.S. service members, pending the permission of family members.

Dover Air Force Base houses the largest military mortuary in the United States and is the Pentagon's entry for service men and woman killed overseas.

The president is leading a lengthy review of the new strategy on Afghanistan he implemented in March, including the deployment of 21,000 more combat troops and trainers. The additional forces would bring the total number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 68,000.

Army General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has requested an additional 40,000 troops as U.S. casualties there have risen in recent months.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

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