International military and civilian personnel turned out in force as the bodies of four Norwegian soldiers were flown out of Afghanistan on Thursday. A recent public opinion poll shows broad support for the Norwegian involvement in the war against insurgents.
Memorial ceremonies held for the four Norwegian soldiers killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Sunday attracted thousands of their NATO colleagues. Defense Minister Grete Faremo and top military officials had traveled to Afghanistan to pay tribute to the men, and accompany their coffins home to Norway.
Thousands of NATO soldiers lined the route at sunrise on Thursday as the four coffins, covered with Norwegian flags, were taken to the airport at Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. The procession included the dead soldiers’ nearest comrades, who carried photos of the deceased, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
Both Faremo and Norwegian defense chief Harald Sunde took part in memorial services on Wednesday for the fallen at Maimana and in the procession early Thursday morning from the Norwegians’ Camp Nidaros.
The soldiers’ coffins were boarded onto an American military aircraft that took off just before 7:30am, bound for Europe. It landed first at Rygge airport in Østfold County, where the coffins were transferred to a Norwegian Hercules aircraft for a short final flight to Norway’s main airport at Gardermoen late Thursday afternoon.
NRK reported that the change of aircraft was in line with military tradition that the bodies of fallen soldiers should come home on a Norwegian aircraft. More ceremonies were held at Gardermoen Thursday afternoon, with both Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Crown Prince Haakon taking part and expressing Norway’s gratitude for the soldiers’ ultimate sacrifice.
Majority supports involvement in Afghanistan
Despite suffering Norway’s heaviest military loss since World War II, a public opinion poll this week suggests that a majority of Norwegians support their country’s involvement in Afghanistan.
The poll, conducted by research firm InFact for newspaper VG earlier this week, showed that 45 percent think Norwegian soldiers should remain in Afghanistan as long as NATO is there. In December, just 38 percent supported Norway’s involvement in Afghanistan, according to a similar poll conducted for TV2.
The VG poll reported that 35 percent think Norway should withdraw its forces, while 20 percent were undecided. Norway currently has around 500 troops assigned to the NATO operation.