Bodies of two U.S. officers return home

Feb. 27, 2012 at 11:09 PM
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DOVER, Del., Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The bodies of two U.S. military officers, shot and killed inside Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, were brought home aboard an U.S. Air Force jet.

The plane carrying their caskets arrived Monday afternoon at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

The U.S. Defense Department has identified the officers as Air Force Lt. Col. John D. Loftis, 44, of Paducah, Ky., and Maj. Robert J. Marchanti II, 48, of Baltimore.

The two were gunned down Friday by an Afghan intelligence office worker inside the high-security ministry amid deadly protests over the inadvertent burnings of Muslims' holy text of Koran by NATO forces at their base. A nationwide manhunt for the suspect was under way.

Loftis was a career Air Force officer. Marchanti was a veteran of Maryland's National Guard, CNN reported.

Loftis, who began his career as a missile officer, had been with the Air Force's special operations unit in Afghanistan, having already served one tour in that country, CNN reported. He was killed just days after his 44th birthday, his mother told CNN affiliate WPSD in Paducah, Kentucky.

"He was very much committed to what he was doing in Afghanistan," his mother said. "He felt that the way to help the people there was to become their friends, and he trusted them."

Marchanti taught physical education in Baltimore County schools for 17 years before resigning to become a full-time, active-duty guardsman, the report said. He was described as someone who loved to work with struggling learners.

Marchanti went to Afghanistan in September, assigned to serve as mentor and adviser to Afghan national police officers.

Marchanti was the father of four children and had a grandchild, CNN reported. Loftis was the father of two daughters, the Air Force said.

Protests over the Koran burnings have persisted in Afghanistan despite apologies from NATO and U.S. President Barack Obama and appeals for calm by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. About 30 Afghans and four Americans have died since the protests began a week ago.

The deaths of Loftis and Marchanti have led the United States, France, Britain and NATO to withdrawn their personnel from Afghan ministries, The Washington Post reported.

The New York Times, quoting sources, reported the two officers were killed at the ministry's National Police Coordination Center, a high-security area accessible only to an elite group of Afghan officers using a special code.

The suspect entered a small room with no security cameras where the two American officers were sitting, and shot them in the head with a silencer-fitted pistol. It has not yet been confirmed if the two officers were armed but military officials told the Times the two could not have been expecting an attack.

The suspect is believed to be a driver for senior officials with years of service in the ministry, the Times said, quoting sources. The suspect, hired as a non-commissioned officer, had won the trust of his bosses and foreign advisers and had access to the coordination center.

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