Two American servicemembers killed in action in Afghanistan, NATO says

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 21, 2019

WASHINGTON — Two American servicemembers were killed in action in Afghanistan on Wednesday, NATO announced in a statement that provided no additional information.

The deaths bring the number of American troops killed by hostile enemy action in 2019 to 14, the highest number of U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan since former President Barack Obama formally ended combat operations there at the end of 2014. Thirteen American troops were killed by enemy forces in 2018 and 39 were killed in action in 2014, according to Pentagon data.

The names of the servicemembers killed Wednesday were being withheld until 24 hours after their families were notified, which is Pentagon policy, according to the statement. 

U.S. military spokesmen at the Pentagon said Wednesday that they also could not immediately provide the location where the deaths occurred or how the servicemembers were killed.

The incident comes about three weeks after two American soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan soldier in an apparent insider attack at a base in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.

It also comes as peace talks ramp up between U.S. and Taliban officials, who have both recently signaled they are closer to reaching an agreement that would lead to at least a partial withdrawal of American forces from the country. State Department envoy Zalmay Khalilzad departed Washington on Tuesday for a new round of negotiations with Taliban officials in Doha, Qatar, later this week.

He tweeted Tuesday that he would “try and close on remaining issues” that need to be worked out with the Taliban. The hardline Islamist group has demanded a full withdrawal of American forces, while the United States has insisted the group must ensure Afghanistan does not revert to a haven for terrorist groups and that women’s rights are upheld in the country. The United States also has insisted the Taliban negotiate with the central Afghan government, terms at which Taliban officials have balked, labeling the Afghan leaders as American puppets.

“We’re ready,” Khalilzad wrote on Twitter of the upcoming round of talks. “Let’s see if the Taliban are as well.”

The U.S. war in Afghanistan is now in its 18th year. Some 14,000 American troops are deployed there and charged with two separate but related missions — to train and advise Afghan troops and to conduct counterterrorism operations.

Some 8,500 are training and advising Afghan security forces to stabilize the country and battle the Taliban insurgency, under the U.S.-led NATO mission known as Resolute Support. The rest of the forces serve under the American Freedom’s Sentinel mission, which targets primarily the remnants of al-Qaida and Islamic State fighters.

President Donald Trump has insisted in recent weeks that the United States has withdrawn troops from Afghanistan — a war that he has repeatedly said he desires to end. Pentagon officials have denied any significant removal of troops has occurred, though the military has moved some command and control elements out of Afghanistan to operate remotely from locations in the Middle East.

Trump on Wednesday, before the American deaths were announced, again criticized American involvement in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, saying those countries must handle their own security.

"Do we want to stay there for another 19 years? I don't think so,” the president said of Afghanistan.

Since the United States first launched military operations in Afghanistan in October 2001, more than 2,400 troops have been killed and more than 20,000 have been wounded in action, according to Pentagon statistics.

Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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