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About 60 U.S. troops from Europe on Thursday helped transport two planeloads of prisoners of war from Algeria, where they’d been imprisoned for nearly two decades, to their homeland in neighboring Morocco.

The troops — Marines from Naval Station Rota, Spain, and airmen from Ramstein Air Base, Germany — were organized by the U.S. European Command after the U.S. State Department, which had helped broker the release of the 404 POWs, asked the U.S. military to help make it happen.

Two DC-10s from the U.S. Transportation Command flew the former prisoners Thursday from a remote airstrip in Tindouf, Algeria, to Agadir, Morocco, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Derek Kaufman, a EUCOM spokesman.

The POWs, including some who are older than 60, were captured during guerrilla wars over the contested territory of Western Sahara, which borders Morocco and Algeria in northwest Africa. Those holding the POWs were members of the Algerian-backed independence movement Polisario Front.

One KC-135 from RAF Mildenhall, England, was used to fly troops from Marines Corps Security Forces in Rota to Tindouf. Airmen from Ramstein flew to Tindouf in a C-17 bringing in “air stairs” for prisoners to board the two passenger jets.

The commander of the mission was Col. Russell Richardson, director of logistics for U.S. Air Forces Europe at Ramstein. Stars and Stripes was unable Friday to obtain comments Friday from Richardson or the EUCOM commander, Marine Gen. James L. Jones.

The airlift came together in a little more than a week, Kaufman said.

The U.S. troops also provided medical help for the POWs as well as French-English translation, in addition to the mission’s airlift and security.

The International Committee of the Red Cross gave the former prisoners health screenings before they bordered the planes for Morocco.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, traveled to Morocco to observe the release of the POWs.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in statement that he hoped the event would prod Morocco and Algeria to peaceably settle their border dispute.

“We call on all parties to seize this positive development,” McCormack said in an Associated Press report.

EUCOM, which is responsible for U.S. military activities in northwestern Africa, has been actively engaged in creating cooperation between nations in the region.


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