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Bill Hemmer: Life at the Kandahar airfield

CNN's Bill Hemmer  

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN (CNN) -- Thirty new detainees arrived at the detention facility at the Kandahar International Airport, bringing the total held there to 391.

Repairs and improvements have been made to the southern Afghanistan airport as members of the Army's 101st Airborne Division take a larger role in preparation for relieving the Marines.

CNN's Bill Hemmer spoke Saturday morning with anchor Kyra Phillips from the Kandhar airport and filed the following report:

PHILLIPS: For the latest on the war against terror in Afghanistan, we go to Bill Hemmer at the Kandahar airfield. Bill, what's the latest from there?

HEMMER: The Kandahar airfield looks more and more like the jumping-off point for detainees being shipped to Cuba. On Saturday morning, 30 more came here, bringing the total to 391, but just as important the runway is now capable to handle a C-141, the same kind of aircraft that completed the first trip to Cuba on Thursday night. The Marines say some significant repairs were done to the runway, extending it to 6,000 feet, critical for accommodating the C-141s.

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Saturday there was a sad reminder of the costs of war for the Marines here. A memorial and prayer service was held for the seven Marines who lost their lives in Pakistan on Wednesday evening.

Six men and one woman were killed when their KC-130 crashed into the rugged mountains in the southwest of Pakistan. The Pentagon says it has ruled out the possibility of enemy fire bringing down that plane, and it also says the recovery process is ongoing.

Also more fallout from the firefight that went on Thursday night as the first flight of detainees left for Cuba. A search of the area on the ground and from the air found some shell casings and a few rocket-propelled grenades that were left behind. The Marines say they were abandoned in a hurry. The Marines say they know the enemy's hiding places and where the opposition forces have gone.

The 101st Airborne Division continues to trickle in. Within two weeks, up to 2,500 soldiers will be based at the Kandahar airfield, thus relieving the U.S. Marines who have been here until now. An Army colonel said the airbase and the detention facilities will be secured by the Army when they take over.

PHILLIPS: Bill, you and I have been talking a lot about the personal side of things. ... Can you share some stories with us?

HEMMER: We're starting our fourth week here. We've been living on the floor since we got here. We sleep on the tile floor inside the terminal building that is bombed out from the U.S. airstrikes, about half the windows are gone. The runway is about 30 yards from our sleeping bags, so naturally that makes for a long and loud night. As you can imagine, a giant C-17 or C-130 backing up right behind you with the full force of those engines blowing up against the wall makes for a pretty harrowing experience.

About five days ago, they opened up a shower, if you could call it that. Basically, it's water, sometimes warm water, inside of a tent. A lot of people have taken advantage of that in the last few days, and we heat up water on a propane burner in the morning to shave daily. So we are keeping our hygiene in check to a point, but this is more or less like camping.

PHILLIPS: You are right there with the Marines. Has this changed your perspective of the military at all?

HEMMER: The Marines and the soldiers of the 101st Airborne go through this stuff all the time. When the Marines got here three weeks ago, there was nothing. They have a taken a place with no heat and no electricity and turned it into a city at this point. And it continues to grow every day.




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