WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump was to pay respects Thursday to a pair of Army officers who were killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
Trump has said the responsibility of receiving the remains of fallen U.S. soldiers is “the toughest thing I have to do” as president.
As the final day of public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry wound down, Trump left the White House for the short flight to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the remains of service members killed abroad are returned to U.S. soil.
David C. Knadle, 33, of Tarrant, Texas, and Kirk T. Fuchigami Jr., 25, of Keaau, Hawaii, died Wednesday when their helicopter crashed as they provided security for troops on the ground in Logar Province in eastern Afghanistan.
Both were assigned to Fort Hood, Texas. Each held the rank of chief warrant officer two.
Wednesday’s crash brought this year’s U.S. death toll in Afghanistan to 19, excluding three noncombat deaths.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for shooting down the helicopter, but the U.S military has dismissed that as a false claim. The crash remains under investigation.
Trump broke off peace talks with the Taliban in September following a bombing in Kabul that killed 12 people, including an American soldier.
The White House said Trump and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke on the phone Thursday, and both “agreed a reduction in violence is necessary to move the peace process forward” and for all-Afghan negotiations regarding a political settlement to be successful.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Trump also thanked Ghani for his support in seeking the release of two Western hostages the Taliban freed this week after holding them in captivity for more than three years.
More than 2,400 Americans have died in the nearly 18-year war.
Last month, as Trump sought to justify his unpopular decision to remove a small contingent of U.S. service members from northeastern Syria, he began to describe his experiences at Dover and argue for removing the U.S. from “endless wars” in the Middle East, which he campaigned on in the 2016 presidential race.
The president has described the sight of cavernous military cargo planes pulling up on the base, doors opening, uniformed service members walking off carrying what are called “transfer cases” bearing the fallen service members’ remains and once-stoic parents breaking down.
“Sometimes they’ll run to the coffin. They’ll break through military barriers,” Trump said at an unrelated White House event on Oct. 9. “They’ll run to the coffin and jump on top of the coffin. Crying mothers and wives. Crying desperately.”
“And this is on these endless wars that just never stop,” he said. “And there’s a time and there’s a place, but it’s time to stop.”
Thursday’s trip is Trump’s second to the Delaware military base this year, and his third visit there overall as president. He was accompanied by actor Jon Voight, who had been at the White House to accept an arts award.
Trump went to the Delaware base in January 2019 for the return of four Americans who were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Syria.
He attended his first transfer service in February 2017, the month after he took office, accompanied by Ivanka Trump, his elder daughter and senior adviser, for the return of a Navy SEAL who was killed during a raid on an al-Qaida compound in Yemen.
Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap