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US servicemember is killed in action in Afghanistan

By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 16, 2019

A U.S. servicemember was killed Monday in Afghanistan, the military said, marking the first American combat fatality since President Donald Trump called peace talks with the Taliban "dead" last week.

The name of the servicemember was being withheld until 24 hours after next of kin notification, per standard procedure, according to a statement released Monday by the U.S.-led Resolute Support mission in Kabul.

Citing unnamed Defense Department officials, the New York Times reported that the servicemember was a Special Forces soldier who was killed in eastern Wardak province while fighting alongside Afghan commandos. 

In recent years, special operations troops have been among the few U.S. servicemembers who accompany Afghans on the battlefield and have borne the brunt of the casualties.

The death Monday is the 17th combat fatality of 2019, a year that has seen the highest number of U.S. battlefield deaths since foreign forces largely withdrew at the end of 2014 and transitioned from a combat mission to one of training and advising Afghan counterparts. More than 2,400 Americans have died in the conflict, which marks 18 years in October.

The death this month of Army Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, and 11 others in a roadside bombing in the Afghan capital was one reason Trump cited for calling off secret talks with Afghan and Taliban officials at Camp David, the president said on Twitter days after the attack.

Trump has since described the talks as "dead," and over the weekend tweeted that the attack that killed Barreto -- the 22nd servicemember to die in combat since the president's envoy began talks with the insurgent Islamist group in October -- "was not a good idea."

"There are much better ways to set up a negotiation," the president tweeted. "The Taliban knows they made a big mistake, and they have no idea how to recover!"

The Taliban sent a delegation to Moscow this week, reportedly to confirm its readiness to continue negotiations with Washington. 

Trump, who has long said he wanted to end the U.S.'s longest war, had announced an anticipated U.S. troop withdrawal from 14,000 to 8,600. In the week since the negotiations collapsed, administration officials have promised increased operations against the insurgents.

The higher number of U.S. battlefield casualties this year tracks with what the Pentagon called a coordinated campaign to pressure the insurgents into "meaningful negotiations."

But since the peace talks were halted last week, Trump has repeatedly said that the U.S. has been hitting the insurgents "harder than at any time in the last 10 years." 

garland.chad@stripes.com
Twitter: @chadgarland
 

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