This is a dispatch from the Afghanistan reporters' "pool," a Pentagon-authorized system that allows a single journalist to file for all accredited news organizations.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — U.S. Marines at Kandahar airport raised a Stars and Stripes flag Tuesday bearing the names of servicemen and police killed in the September 11 attack on New York and the USS Cole in Yemen.
The names of the 17 sailors who died in the Cole bombing in October last year, along with the names of the 23 New York policemen who lost their lives in the airborne suicide attack on the World Trade Center, were written on 40 of the flag's 50 stars.
After a single blast on a police whistle, a four-man color guard raised the flag on a makeshift pole in the glass-scattered courtyard of the main terminal building at the airport outside the southern city of Kandahar. About 30 Marines and sailors, along representatives of coalition forces, stood at attention.
"The flag was flown over New York City where [the attackers] came and now we're going to fly it over their country," said Marine Sergeant Major Gerald Lane, who led the flag-raising ceremony shortly after dawn.
"It sent the message that we're going to root out and find the guys who did what they did in New York City," he said.
Relatives of the New York victims as well as firefighters and police officers wrote messages on the 18-by-12-foot flag sent to the U.S. servicemen now fighting the remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda network in Afghanistan.
"They took 23 great cops. Pay back time," read one unsigned note among the numerous messages written in the red and white stripes of the flag by relatives of victims, fellow policemen and others.
Saudi-born Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda is accused of carrying out the September 11 attacks in Washington and New York, which claimed more than 3,000 lives, as well as being involved in the attack on the USS Cole.
"United We Stand," wrote Steve Tomasulo, a New York policeman.
"Now is the time to pay for your mistakes. Step into the arena," wrote Captain Garry Galfano of the New York Police Department's emergency services unit, which had rushed to the stricken World Trade Center.
"To all US military. Show them justice the American way. Kick Ass! Be safe," wrote S.A. Nanette Schumaker of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Lane said the flag — which had been flown at "Ground Zero" in New York where the World Trade Center once stood — was given to the Marines by the New York Police Department and would be returned to them after it was lowered at the end of the day.
"God bless the NYPD, FDNY, US armed forces. Good luck and make us proud," said one message scrawled by P.O. Morietti, of the New York's 43rd police precinct, in the flag's stripes.
Another, signed by Mark Poster, said "God bless and protect you while you avenge our fallen brothers. We didn't ask for this fight, but we will finish it now."
Lane said the names of the Cole victims were especially poignant because they were fellow servicemen.
Seventeen American sailors were killed and 38 wounded in the suicide boat attack on the Cole, which had docked in the Yemeni port of Aden.
The Marines moved in to Kandahar airport on Friday after the southern Afghan city, once the heartland of the Taliban regime, was surrendered to opposition Afghan forces on December 7.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.