Washington, August 9: The Pentagon has ruled out media coverage of a ceremony marking the return of 30 US soldiers, including 22 Navy SEALs, who were killed when the helicopter they were travelling in was shot down in Afghanistan.
The return of the remains in flag draped coffins to the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, possibly today, was denied media coverage because given the nature of the attack there were “no identifiable remains” of these servicemen, Pentagon spokesman Marine Col David Lapan told reporters during an off camera briefing.
The International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said the CH-47 Chinook helicopter was reportedly shot down by an insurgent rocket-propelled grenade while transporting the US service members and Afghan commandos to the scene of an engagement between ISAF and insurgent forces.
As a result of the attack, the helicopter exploded in midair, killing everyone on board.
“Due to the catastrophic nature of the crash, the remains of our fallen service members will be returned to the US via Dover AFB in unidentified status, until they can be positively identified by the Armed Forces Mortuary Affairs Office at Dover,” another Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt Jane Campbell said in a statement later.
“Because the remains are unidentified at this point, next-of-kin are not in a position to grant approval for media access to the dignified transfer,” he said.
Therefore, in accordance with the policy of the Department of Defence, no media coverage of the arrival and dignified transfer is permitted, Campbell said.
“Families will however, be given the opportunity to be present for the arrival,” he said.
Coverage of arrival of soldiers killed in battlefield was banned for the media during the previous Bush administration.
The Obama administration permitted media coverage of the return ceremony for service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, subject to the approval by the next-of-kin. But this time the Department of Defence ruled against the media coverage.
Pentagon Press Association president Nancy Youssef said the organisation has protested the decision to ban media coverage and had sought to reverse the decision.