WASHINGTON — Hours after a personal encounter with the grim price of war, President Barack Obama said Thursday the sight of 18 flag-covered cases holding the remains of Americans killed this week in Afghanistan can't help but influence his thinking about sending more troops overseas.
"It was a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day, not only our troops but their families as well," Obama said from the White House, reflecting briefly on his surprise middle-of-the-night trip to Dover Air Force Base to observe the return of the fallen Americans.
Asked whether the experience will affect his overhaul of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, the president said it will: "The burden that both our troops and their families bear in any wartime situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts."
By many accounts, it was a difficult night.
After a 40-minute helicopter ride about midnight to the Delaware base where U.S. forces killed overseas come home, Obama went to a chapel to speak with relatives of the fallen.
Of the 18 fallen Americans on the C-17 cargo plane, 10 — including three Drug Enforcement Administration agents — were killed Monday when a U.S. military helicopter crashed returning from a firefight with suspected Taliban drug traffickers in western Afghanistan. Eight soldiers were killed Tuesday when their vehicles were hit by roadside bombs in Kandahar province.
Most of what Obama saw was private.
An 18-year ban on coverage of Dover homecomings, dating to the 1991 Gulf War and strengthened by former President George W. Bush, was relaxed this year under Obama's watch. Now, families get to decide whether cameras can document the return. In this case, the return of only one of the 18 was open to the media.
His name was Dale R. Griffin. He was an Army sergeant from Terre Haute, Ind., and a top wrestler in high school and at the Virginia Military Institute. Griffin's remains were the last to be carried past Obama, who saluted as the case came down the ramp.
By 4:45 a.m., the president had touched back down on the South Lawn. He walked inside, alone.