Relatives mourn soldiers' deaths in Afghanistan

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By RANDALL CHASE, Associated Press

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A sister of one of two U.S. military police officers killed in the violent backlash in Afghanistan over the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base says relatives of both men are devastated by their deaths.

Amanda Meland, the oldest sister of Cpl. T.J. Conrad of Roanoke, Va., who was posthumously promoted to sergeant, said he had spoken recently about the violent protests. Conrad, the father of a 7-month-old baby, deployed to Afghanistan in January and was to have celebrated his 23rd birthday on March 6.

"You see it on TV, you see it in the movies, but you just never expect it's going to be your family or your soldier," she told The Associated Press after being advised of Conrad's death.

The bodies of Conrad and Sgt. Joshua Born, 25, of Niceville, Fla., both assigned to the Army's Fort Stewart in Georgia, were returned Saturday to the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base.

On Thursday, an Afghan soldier turned his gun on foreign troops, killing the two American soldiers, during a riot outside a U.S. base in Nangarhar province, officials have said.

Rising anti-American sentiments in that country over the Quran burnings have resulted in two more American deaths since: two U.S. military advisers — a lieutenant colonel and a major whose names were not immediately released — were found dead in their office with shots to the back of their heads. It is still unclear who shot the men inside a heavily secured wing of Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, or if the attacker had been apprehended.

On Saturday, white-gloved military teams somberly lifted the flag-draped cases bearing the remains of Conrad and Born from an arriving plane at Dover Air Force Base before transferring them to the mortuary.

Contacted by AP, Meland said Conrad was in good spirits Wednesday when she and other relatives last spoke with him via Skype. She added: "... He did say that things were starting to get crazy from the backlash."

Conrad wanted to make the military his career, planning to re-enlist and hoping to be stationed at Fort Eustis, Va., to be closer to family, according to his sister. Meland also said he was hoping to have another baby.

Meland said Conrad's widow, Holly, was not at the couple's house when military officials initially came to notify her of his death. "They had come earlier, but she was not there. She had actually just mailed out his birthday package," Meland explained.

Born's relatives could not immediately be reached.

Days of protests in Afghanistan prompted that country's president on Sunday to appeal in a televised address to his compatriots for calm.

More than two dozen people, including the four U.S. troops, have been killed since Tuesday, when it first emerged that Qurans and religious materials had been thrown into a fire pit used to burn garbage at Bagram Air Field, a large U.S. base north of Kabul. President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials apologized and said it was a terrible mistake, but the incident has sent thousands into the streets in Afghanistan.

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