The Pentagon released on Friday the names of seven soldiers killed in the crash of a MH-47 Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan on Oct. 26, including an Army Green Beret originally from Medford based at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg. Three special agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency were also killed in the crash, which happened during a mission to seek out opium-trafficking insurgents in the northwest Badghis province’s Darabam district.
The latest fallen soldier with Long Island ties is 28-year-old Staff Sgt. Keith R. Bishop, who was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, also referred to as the Green Berets. The 1999 graduate of Patchogue-Medford High School had joined the Army in 2002 and since moved to North Carolina.
Gov. David Paterson directed that flags on New York State government buildings be flown at half-staff on Wednesday, Nov. 4, in honor of Bishop.
Bishop was a part of a joint force that had “searched a suspected compound believed to harbor insurgents conducting activities related to narcotics trafficking in western Afghanistan,” NATO said in a statement. “During the operation, insurgent forces engaged the joint force and more than a dozen enemy fighters were killed in the ensuing firefight.”
Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium—the raw ingredient in heroin—and the illicit drug trade is a major source of funding for Taliban and other insurgent groups.
The crash occurred on the same day that a second helicopter crash claimed four American lives, making it the deadliest day for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan in more than four years.
President Barack Obama was at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Thursday to salute as the flag-covered cases holding the Americans’ remains made their way home as they came off a giant C-17 cargo plane and to console the families of the fallen.
The president’s trip to Dover, something he has wanted to do for months, came at a pivotal moment for the Afghanistan war.
The enormous blow to U.S. forces there last week was part of a month in which at least 55 U.S. troops have been killed, making October the most deadly for America in Afghanistan since the war began eight years ago.
And the visit came as Obama weighs how to overhaul the war so that terrorists can’t take root again in Afghanistan and more U.S. lives and money aren’t sunk into an effort that doesn’t work. With the stability of Afghanistan in doubt and support for the war waning at home, it has become the dominant foreign policy challenge of his early presidency.
Obama already has upped the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan to 68,000 troops and is considering sending a large amount more, although probably fewer than the 40,000 troops requested by his commander there, U.S. officials tell The Associated Press. The president held his next war council meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Friday, but aides say he is still weeks—perhaps several—away from a decision.
Meantime, the dramatic image of a wartime president on Dover’s tarmac was a portrait not witnessed in years. Obama’s predecessor said the appropriate way to show his respect for war’s cost was to meet with grieving military families in private, as Bush often did, but he never observed cases carrying remains coming off a cargo plane.
Speaking softly and somewhat haltingly, Obama said losses such as these are “something that I think about each and every day.”
Asked whether the somber experience—watching cases carrying the remains come off a giant C-17 cargo plane one by one in the darkness and meeting privately with families so fresh in their grief—will affect his overhaul of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, the president didn’t hesitate to say that it would. But neither did he elaborate.
“The burden that both our troops and their families bear in any wartime situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts,” he said, adding nothing more.
With Associated Press