KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- It is hard to look around the grounds of the international airport here and not see an American flag snapping in the brisk breeze.
Another pair of flags was ceremoniously raised here Jan. 1 as a poignant display of strengthened U.S. and Afghan relations. Afghanistan's national flag was raised simultaneously alongside the Old Glory for the first time since 1989 on Afghan soil.
"Peace, unity and friendship," said Kandahar's Governor Gul Agha Shirzai, referring to the colors flying high, while shaking the hand of Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general of Joint Task Force 58. It was Shirzai's fighters who battled the Taliban and seized the airport here that is now serving as an operating base for more than 10 multi-national military forces. Shirzai, while talking to news correspondents here, also mentioned continuing the coordinated effort by the Northern Alliance and U.S. troops to quell the Al-Qaeda regime and rid the world of terrorism.
"This symbolic gesture solidifies the close, working relationship we have established with the Afghans here," noted Mattis. "Shirzai has extended a warm greeting to the Marines. This is their airport and we'll turn it over to them when we leave this country." The East Coast leathernecks of the 26th MEU will soon return to sea and the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group after being relieved by U.S. Army units at Kandahar and will stand ready for whatever the president has in store for the them, said Mattis.
"The two countries are coming together to end this war," said Lance Cpl. Avias T. Jones of New Roads, La, one of the Marines on the historic flag raising detail.
"We've come a long way and have gained a greater understanding of the Afghan people," he said. "I now have a good feeling about them."
This marked the second ceremonial flag raising here. Marines from both the 15th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units raised a flag that was flown by New York firefighters over the World Trade Center ruins here before Christmas to both honor the country and pay tribute to those who perished in the tragic events of Sept. 11.
"It was definitely an honor to be one of the first Marines to have raised both flags here at the airport," said Lance Cpl. Patrick J. Myers of North Port, Fla. "I felt proud."