Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Obama On Hand for Arrival of Remains of Afghanistan Helicopter Tragedy

Updated throughout at 5:15 p.m. edt

President Obama abruptly changed his schedule today to attend the arrival of the remains of 30 American troops who died when their helicopter was shot down over the weekend in Afghanistan, a source confirmed.

The President spent time aboard two C-17 transports that carried the servicemen's remains, paying his respects to the fallen at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the "dignified transfer operations" for the deceased were conducted.

About 250 members of the victims' families and fellow servicemen were in attendance, along with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.

Obama spent approximately 70 minutes meeting informally with family members, offering his condolences and his deep gratitude for their sacrifice. There were no remarks by the President, just private conversations with the family members.

Among the dead are 22 members of the Navy's elite SEAL Team Six, which pulled off the daring raid in Pakistan that left Al Qaeda boss Osama Bin Laden dead. Officials have not said whether any of the dead were part of the Bin Laden mission.

The downing Saturday of the twin-rotor, CH-47 Chinook helicopter was the worst single-day loss in a decade of fighting in Afghanistan. The Taliban shot down the aircraft with a rocket-propelled grenade.

The remains of all 38 men aboard the helicopter, including eight Afghanis, were flown in for identification in transportation cases draped in the U.S. and Afghanistan flags, respectively. A chapalian said prayers and the bremians were taken off the planes with full military honors in a somber ceremony.

"The crash they were in was so horrific and the state of remains such that there was no easy way to see this was this person or this was that person," said Van Williams, the public affairs chief for Dover’s mortuary affairs operations.

DNA, dental records and fingerprints will be used to identify the servicemen.

The news media was not allowed to attend at the request of a majority of the families, but military videographers recorded the event for the official historical archives.

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