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Marines stand down, honor fallen comrades

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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — U.S. Marines swiped at their eyes and hugged Tuesday as a military chaplain invoked the memory of two comrades killed in the Afghan campaign's second deadly air crash in less than two weeks.

Clad in grease-stained khaki coveralls, with M-16 assault rifles slung behind their backs, the dead men's comrades joined other soldiers from the United States and elsewhere to commemorate the victims of Sunday's crash. They gathered under a giant American flag in the battle-pocked airport terminal — the same hall used for the memorial service of the Jan. 9 crash that killed all seven Marines on board.

America's battle against terrorism is going "to take blood spilled by good people," said Navy Chaplain Cmdr. Joseph Scordo. The gathering, joining in for the Marine Hymn, "Eternal Father," sang: "Oh hear us when we lift our prayer for those in peril in the air."

"You have given all ... a nation could ask of you," said Marine Maj. Zeke Williams, of Memphis, Tenn., swallowing hard as he delivered his eulogy.

Several of the men who had known the victims wiped their eyes with wool-gloved hands and embraced after the service.

Staff Sgt. Walter F. Cohee III, 26, Wicomico, Md., and Sgt. Dwight J. Morgan, 24, Mendocino, Calif., died Sunday when their CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed while on a resupply mission. Five other Marines were injured. Military officials said the cause of the crash appeared to be mechanical failure.

The worst single toll for U.S. forces in the Afghan campaign was Jan. 9, when all seven Marines aboard a refueling tanker died in a fiery crash in Pakistan. Two Army Rangers were killed when a helicopter crashed in Pakistan on Oct. 19.

On Tuesday, an unmanned U.S. Predator spy plane crashed in the Afghanistan theater, the U.S. Army's Central Command, which is running the war, reported from its Florida headquarters. It was the second Predator crash in the campaign. Central Command said that hostile fire was not the cause and an investigation was launched.

Thousands of soldiers — Marines, members of the Army's 101st Airborne Division and military from other nations with the U.S.-led Afghanistan coalition — are at Kandahar, the main American base in the country.

It is also serving to confine Taliban and al-Qaida suspects before most of them are flown on to the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo, Cuba. Army spokesman Maj. Ignacio Perez said 244 detainees remained at Kandahar Tuesday.

U.S. officials also said John Walker Lindh, an American found fighting alongside the Taliban, will likely be flown Tuesday from his confinement on a Navy ship to the United States, where he faces trial and a life sentence if convicted.

Unlike the Guantanamo detainees, Lindh, 20, a Californian, is being sent to the United States for trial because he is an American citizen. He is charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens.

U.S. officials would not give details, except to say he would be flown from the amphibious attack ship USS Bataan cruising the Arabian Sea and transferred to another flight for the trip to the United States. The officials spoke on condition they not be named.

U.S. officials have said Lindh would be handed over to the Department of Justice and the federal court district in northern Virginia where Zacarias Moussaoui is awaiting trial for alleged complicity in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Lindh converted to Islam at age 16 and allegedly trained at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan. He was captured in November in the siege of Kunduz and survived the bloody prison uprising by Taliban and al-Qaida members near Mazar-e-Sharif in which a CIA operative was killed.

Reflecting Afghanistan's continued dangers, a U.N.-appointed monitoring group warned that Taliban and al-Qaida supporters could possess missiles capable of delivering conventional, chemical of nuclear warheads over distances of up to 190 miles.

For Afghans, hunger, cold and disease are more pressing threats. In Mazar-e-Sharif, 30 tons of food, medicine, water pumps and purification gear were flown in Tuesday, the largest aid shipment since French troops secured the airport two months ago and began repairs.

An estimated 250,000 people at eight camps around the city are at risk, said Jerome Combes, chief of French aid agency Action Against Hunger's mission in northern Afghanistan.

In Tokyo, the United States and some 80 countries and international organizations pledged more than $4.5 billion in aid over the next several years to rebuild the war-shattered nation.

The commitments fell short of the $10 billion that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said would be needed over the next five years. But interim government leader Hamid Karzai said he couldn't wait to tell the Afghan people "the good news."

He said he hoped the promised money would start flowing in quickly, saying Afghanistan faced a long road to reconstruction. "It's an endless list of misery for Afghans," he said.

Later, Karzai's motorcade was involved in an accident on a Tokyo highway, when a quickly braking vehicle caused Karzai's and four other cars to collide. Karzai and his foreign minister, Abdullah, were unhurt, but three people suffered minor injuries, Tokyo police said.

In Kabul, Afghan civil servants were paid for the first time in months.

"I am very, very happy," said Finance Ministry employee Abdel Jami, clutching a thick stack of banknotes.

Officials said the country's 219,000 civil servants would get one month's wages — an average of about $28 each — over the next few days. But the government has no money to pay back wages yet.