In a grim visit marking the deadliest loss of U.S. troops so far during the 10-year war in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama flew to Dover, Del., to honor the returning remains of 30 troops killed in a helicopter crash Saturday west of Kabul.
The president canceled earlier plans in order to travel to the U.S. military mortuary, where he boarded each of two C-17 aircraft that had ferried the bodies of the dead.
Obama then spent an hour with 250 relatives of the fallen, offering condolences in a setting that was shielded from the media.
The fatal crash bore similarities to the 2005 confrontation in which Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, and two fellow SEALs were killed while pursuing a Taliban operative. During the mountainside battle near the Pakistan border, a helicopter carrying a force of 16 U.S. commandos coming to their aid -- including eight Navy SEALs and eight Army Night Stalkers -- was shot down, killing all aboard.
This time, the troops who perished had been responding by helicopter to a call for help from those pursuing a Taliban leader in Wardak Province. The helicopter, which carried 30 Americans and eight Afghans, crashed after it was fired upon in the Tangi valley, according to a NATO release.
Pentagon officials said Tuesday they have not publicly released the names of the dead because the horrific nature of the crash has slowed the identification of remains.
Since death notifications began arriving last weekend at homes across the nation, grief has convulsed communities from Cape Cod to San Diego.
Saturday's tragedy has ricocheted through the nation's tight-knit brotherhood of Navy SEALs, a small group of some 2,500 elite fighters. Navy SEALs have taken on some of the most challenging ground missions in modern warfare.
Jim Quattromani, a former Navy SEAL who trained with Murphy and who knew some of the men who were killed in the 2005 crash, said it was still difficult for him to speak about the crash.
"It's an overwhelmingly hard time for us," said Quattromani, now a law clerk for a federal District Court judge in Chicago. "We miss these guys immeasurably."
Members of Murphy's family said Saturday's deadly crash, which came only weeks after the sixth anniversary of Murphy's death, reinforced a bond they feel with the SEAL community.
"This is bad," Murphy's father, Dan Murphy, said Monday. "Twenty-two families will have to go through what we had to go through then." With AP
The Pentagon has not announced the names of the dead, but some families have said they received notification.