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Trump, Pence attend dignified transfer of 2 slain U.S. troops

Dover Air Force Base, Delaware — President Trump traveled here Monday to pay respects to two U.S. soldiers killed Saturday in Afghanistan when a soldier dressed in an Afghan army uniform opened fire with a machine gun.

The Defense Department identified the dead American soldiers as Sergeant Javier Jaguar Gutierrez, 28, of San Antonio and Sergeant Antonio Rey Rodriguez, also 28, of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Six other American soldiers were wounded in the attack.

Mr. Trump saluted and Vice President Mike Pence placed his hand over his heart as transfer cases containing the remains were carried out of a plane and transferred to a transport vehicle.

U.S. President Donald Trump salutes the transfer cases holding the remains of U.S. Army sergeant Gutierrez during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base, in Dover, Delaware
President Trump salutes and Vice President Pence holds hand over his heart at dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on February 10, 2020 of remains of two U.S. solidiers killed in Afghanistan two days earlier: Sgt. Javier Jaguar Gutierrez, 28, and Sgt. Antonio Rey Rodriguez, also 28.   JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

As the president and Pence stood on the tarmac in a falling mist, a woman among the mourners struggled to reach the plane's ramp, pulling her companions with her as they tried to hold her back. She wailed as the doors on the transfer vehicle closed.

Reporters were told it was the first time since 2009 that a president and vice president had attended such a transfer together.

Vans were strategically placed to protect the families' privacy.

Dignified Transfer of U.S. Army soldiers SFC Javier Jaguar Gutierrez and SFC Antonio Rey Rodriguez
Members of the armed services salute during the dignified transfer of the remains of U.S. Army soldiers SFC Javier Jaguar Gutierrez and SFC Antonio Rey Rodriguez at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, on February 10, 2020. MICHAEL MCCOY / REUTERS

National security adviser Robert O'Brien told reporters traveling with Mr. Trump on Air Force One that the president wrapped up a reelection campaign rally in New Hampshire a bit early so he could visit with the families of the soldiers. O'Brien described such moments as "probably the toughest thing he does as president," along with visiting wounded soldiers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

"These are terrible sacrifices for the families. And these guys are heroes, they're real warriors and did a great job for the American people," O'Brien said. "These are tough times. It's tough for the president but he thinks it's important to be there for the families and recognize them."

Overnight Tuesday, Mr. Trump tweeted, "Just returned to White House from Dover. Very sad!"

combo-rodriguez-gutierrez
(L) Sergeant 1st Class Antonio Rey Rodriguez, 28, of Las Cruces, New Mexico; (R) Sergeant 1st Class Javier Jaguar Gutierrez, 28, of San Antonio, Texas. Department of Defense

Gutierrez was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina. He had also served in Iraq. Rodriguez was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He deployed eight times in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel, which began in 2015. Both men were posthumously promoted to sergeant first class and awarded the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart.

Six U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan since the start of 2020, including Saturday's casualties. Last year, 20 U.S. service personnel died in combat there and there were two non-combat deaths.

The incident came as Washington has sought to find an end to the war in Afghanistan.

Washington's peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been meeting with Taliban representatives in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar in recent weeks. He's seeking an agreement to reduce hostilities to get a peace deal signed that would start negotiations among Afghans on both sides of the conflict.

In his State of the Union Address last Tuesday, Mr. Trump referenced the peace talks, saying U.S. soldiers weren't meant to serve as "law enforcement agencies" for other nations.

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