U.S. troops raise NYC flag over Afghanistan base to honor World Trade Center victims

Friday, November 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN (AP) _ American troops raised a flag of New York City given to them by city firefighters over the new U.S. base in the Afghan desert Friday to honor victims of the World Trade Center attack.

The flag was brought to the base by reservists from the Navy Seabee 133rd Construction Battalion, who joined Marines already deployed here, arriving from Guam aboard a C-17 transport aircraft early Friday.

They raised the flag _ orange, white and blue with the city seal in the center _ just below a U.S. flag on the same bamboo pole Friday morning, while Marines continued to dig in around the base perimeter and hone their weapons skills.

``Two of our reservists had friends in the (World Trade Center) building, so when firefighters said `Will you do us a favor? Wherever you go, please fly this flag to remember those people, we said 'yes,''' Seabee Chief Petty Officer Robert Tanner said.

Many of the reservists worked as Port Authority police and in similar jobs and helped in the rescue efforts after the suicide hijackers' Sept. 11 attacks on the twin towers, said Tanner, 40, of Rensselaerville, N.Y.

The Seabees also flew the flag in Guam, where they are usually based.

The Seabees were sent here to improve the hard-sand airstrip and the camp.

The old airfield, seized Sunday night by the Marines, is within striking distance of Kandahar, the spiritual center and last major stronghold of Afghanistan's Taliban movement.

The United States launched its campaign against the Taliban after they refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the top suspect in the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon.

The Associated Press was among the news media allowed to station a reporter with the Marines on the condition that they do not report on troop strength, mission plans, the exact location of the base or other sensitive issues.

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S.-led campaign, has said in the United States that between 800 and 1,100 Marines will eventually deploy at the base.

At the Afghan airstrip, Seabee Chief Petty Officer Tony Williams, 31, of Norristown, Pa., said this was the first time since the Vietnam War that the Seabees have deployed so far forward with the Marines in a hostile situation.

``With all the dust, it is hard on personnel and equipment,'' he said.

Capt. Stewart Upton, a Marine public affairs officer, said there had been no hostile encounters overnight Thursday.

From Thursday night through sunrise Friday, U.S. military helicopters, C-130 transport planes and the even bigger C-17s flew in more troops and equipment, including light armored vehicles.

At the base's farthest perimeter, the infantry had dug into the sand and the light armored vehicles tested their weapons. The 14-ton, 8-wheel vehicles have small, tank-like turrets and can drive up to about 60 mph in the desert.

High overhead two jet fighters could be seen refueling from a giant flying tanker between the scattered clouds.

Despite near-freezing overnight temperatures, sand and no amenities _ not even tents _ for any of the forward troops, most seem proud to be in southern Afghanistan.

``Nobody really wants to go to war, but we are here because we have to,'' said Chris Tidwell, 22, of Tampa, Fla., of the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Company.

``From what I hear, everybody in America is pretty proud we are here trying to take out the terrorists. I think it's good, too,'' said Marine Cpl. Jamyn Williams, 22, of La Puente, Calif., as he cleaned sand and grit out of his heavy machine gun at the edge of his foxhole.

Capt. David Romley said munitions experts had found and destroyed old Russian ammunition around the base, some of it dated 1985. That was midway through the Soviets' 10-year occupation of Afghanistan, four years before their retreat.