Biden’s visit came shortly after he announced plans to end the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan later this year, marking the end of a two-decade conflict that has killed 2,488 service members and wounded 20,722.
The president said he has carried a card with him for 12 years that he regularly updates with the exact number of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There’s no comforting distance of history in Section 60,” Biden said Wednesday ahead of his visit. “The grief is raw. It’s a visceral reminder of the living cost of war.”
“That exact number — not an approximation or a rounded off number, because every one of those dead are sacred human beings who left behind entire families — an exact accounting of every single, solitary one, needs to be had,” he added.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI via Getty Images President Joe Biden wipes his eye as he walks through Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Wednesday.
Roughly 100,000 U.S. troops were deployed to Afghanistan at the height of the war, a figure that has since dwindled to around 3,000. That number will creep closer to zero beginning May 1, with a drawdown set to conclude by Sept. 11.
Standing among the headstones, Biden reflected on his late son Beau, whose Delaware National Guard unit deployed to Iraq in 2008.
“I have trouble these days ever showing up at a veterans cemetery and not thinking of my son Beau,” he said, “who proudly insisted on putting on that uniform and going with his unit to Iraq and giving up his spot as attorney general in the state of Delaware because he thought it was the right thing to do.”
“Look at them all,” he said, somberly gesturing to the thousands of rain-soaked stones.
“Thank you all for being here in the rain,” he told those assembled for the event. “It means a lot.”
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