Maj. Robert Marchanti

Maj. Robert Marchanti was killed Friday in Afghanistan, his family said. (Marchanti family photo)

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski raised the death of Maryland National Guard Maj. Robert J. Marchanti II with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, and asked: “Was it worth it?”

Clinton, appearing at a Senate appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations, said she “could never justify the death of any one person” – and acknowledged that the United States has not been able to turn Afghanistan into Baltimore.

But she said U.S. militaryand civilian personnel have helped to make the United States safer while improving conditions in Afghanistan.

Marchanti and another officer were working in an Interior Ministry building in Kabul on Saturday when a gunman entered and shot each in the head. Their deaths came amid the rising fury over the burning of the Quran at a NATO air base in Eastern Afghanistan.

The violent unrest is seen as a new challenge to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, which centers on training Afghan security forces to protect the country's fragile central government after foreign troops leave in 2014.

President Barack Obama and NATO commander Gen. John R. Allen have apologized for the burning. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has appealed for calm.

Marchanti, 48, a longtime physicial education teacher in the Baltimore County schools, leaves a wife, their four children and a grandchild.

Mikulski, a longtime supporter of Clinton, said his death had filled Maryland with grief.

“I am sorry about the inadvertent burning of the Quran,” she said. “I can understand the passion about it. But passion and anger is not equivalent to assassination. …

“My question is, what do we tell his family? What do I tell his family today? Was it worth it?”

Mikulski said the United States had “the best of intentions” when it launched the war in Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“But here we are,” she said. “They’re growing dope. Girls still can’t go to school like the way we would like to. There’s corruption.

"And now, because of an inadvertent act, the relationship is so fragile. … What do I tell his family? Was it worth it? When are they coming home? What would you say if you had to make the phone call that I’m going to make this afternoon?"

Clinton responded that "there aren’t any words that can tell a wife and four children and friends and colleagues why any kind of death in combat and service to our country is explicable."

But she said the United States went to Afghanistan "for a very clear purpose" – and has made progress toward its goals.

“Because of our platform and our presence in Afghanistan, we’ve been able to target terrorists, particularly top al Qaida operatives, including bin Laden, in their safe havens. And we have made progress in helping the Afghan people.

“Is it what we would want? Is it anywhere near what someone living in Baltimore would expect from a government, from the daily life, the human rights?

“No, it is not. But there are more positive developments because of the sacrifice and commitment of our people, our men and women, in the military, in the other aspects of civilian power.

“So I could never justify the death of any one person. But I can with a clear consceince say that the work we have done there has made American safer and has created the possibility for a better future for the Afghan people.”

Clinton said the United States is now "on a path to transition out of Afghanistan.

"This is not an endless commitment that will take lives far into the future," she said.