Pool Report: Marines Bury Afghan Fighter
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.
CAMP RHINO, Afghanistan — U.S. Marines gave a 21-gun salute and read from the Koran at a desert burial Saturday for an allied Afghan warrior who was killed by a stray U.S. bomb during fighting for Kandahar.
The burial filmed by international television cameras appeared to underscore the administration of President George W. Bush's efforts to show that the United States was waging a war against terrorism and not against Islam.
Lance Corporal Anis Trabelsi, a Muslim from Baltimore, Maryland chanted a prayer in Arabic that opens with "Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim," or "In the name of God the compassionate, the merciful."
Major Beau Higgins said the funeral of the Muslim fighter was taking place in a "spirit of tolerance and understanding," as he read a eulogy in the cold winter wind of the southern Afghan desert.
The body lay in a white shroud before Higgins and next to the open grave below a sand dune that serves as a lookout post for the Marine base and airstrip in the background. Marines had lifted it off a military ambulance in a stretcher.
"What we're doing today is laying to rest a warrior and a patriot," said Higgins, an intelligence officer with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and a Roman Catholic lay preacher.
"And while none of us suffered the hardships of the Taliban regime first hand, we have all been party to the suffering and extremes of religion brought to our country (by the September 11 attacks)," he said.
"This ceremony is not about religion or faith or who's right or wrong. It is, however, a reminder of the cost of freedom," said Higgins, who is based out of Camp Pendelton but is from New Orleans, Louisiana.
"It is now up to us to ensure that his life was not lost in vain," he said.
The Marines did not release the name of the fighter but said he had fought for Pashtun tribal leader Hamid Karzai who has been appointed the leader of Afghanistan's new interim administration.
Captain Stewart Upton said the fighter died while en route to the USS Peleliu, a floating hospital, after he was wounded on a battlefield north of Kandahar by a wayward 2,000 pound smart bomb dropped from a B-52 bomber.
Three U.S. servicemen and five other Afghan fighters were also killed in Wednesday's friendly fire incident.
"He's an Afghan and he needs to be buried in Afghanistan," said Upton, a Marine spokesman. "We're trying to be as respectful as we can to a warrior who needs a burial."
Upton said the casings of the bullets fired in the 21-gun salute as well as a map and photographs of the grave site would be given one day to the man's family, though it was not clear if they had been located amid the chaos in Afghanistan.
In a send-off involving full military honors, seven Marines wearing helmets and flak jackets fired three crisp and simultaneous bursts from their M-16s into the cold morning air.
More than a dozen other Marines, including General James N. Mattis, the commander of Forward Operating Base Rhino, stood at attention while others watched from atop the mound of sand bristling with antennas.
At Trabelsi's request, journalists covering the event were not allowed to watch the body being lowered into the ground.
While the three Americans killed by the B-52 bomb were being taken home for burial, it was not clear what had happened to the five other dead Afghans.