In a tribute to the sacrifices of U.S. troops, President Obama announced Sunday that two non-commissioned officers would be part of the White House delegation to the inauguration of Afghan President-elect Ashraf Ghani on Monday.
Marine Sgt. Miroslav "Mike" Kazimir and Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Daley, of the Army's Special Operations Command, will join the delegation led by John Podesta, Obama's senior counselor, and Army Gen. John F. Campbell, who took command of the International Security Force last month.
Kazimir was serving as a machine-gunner with the 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, in April 2011 when a roadside bomb near Marjah in Helmand province hurled him from the turret of a Mine Resistant-Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle.
Kazimir, who came to the U.S. from Slovakia in 1999, suffered a concussion and severe injuries to his legs and spinal cord in the blast that killed two Marines and wounded two others.
"It's amazing that I wasn't killed," Kazimir later told the Armed Forces Press Service. "I guess I got lucky. I honestly don't know how I survived that blast."
Ghani's inauguration Monday followed a bitterly contested election and runoff against Abdullah Abdullah that delayed and threatened to derail conclusion of a new Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. and a separate agreement with NATO for a continued presence of more than 10,000 allied troops next year.
Both Ghani and Abdullah have pledged to sign a new BSA quickly to allow Campbell to prepare for a planned U.S. force in Afghanistan next year of 9,800 trainers and counter-terrorism troops.
Ghani and Abdullah have now agreed on a power-sharing deal to form a unified government, with Abdullah serving in the new post of chief executive officer. Secretary of State John Kerry noted that Ghani's inauguration marks the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan's history and the first peaceful leadership transition in more than 40 years.
Kerry and Campbell have also stressed the challenges ahead as the U.S. and NATO withdraw combat forces by the end of this year and the Taliban presses attacks against the Afghan National Security Forces.
On Saturday, Afghan villagers hanged four captured Taliban militants from a tree as the Afghan army battled the insurgents for a sixth day in a district of Ghazni province south of Kabul.
The hangings were carried out after Taliban fighters killed more than 100 people in the area in the past week, including more than a dozen who were beheaded, said Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, the deputy governor of Ghazni, the Washington Post reported.
Over the weekend, Afghan officials also announced that the government will be unable to pay thousands of civil servants next month for lack of funding.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@monster.com.