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Operation in which US soldiers killed was response to planned Taliban offensive

Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, spokesman for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, answered questions at a briefing in Kabul on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, after an operation in Kunduz days earlier left two U.S. servicemembers, several Afghan commandos and possibly scores of civilians dead.

PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN/STARS AND STRIPES

By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 5, 2016

KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban militants were planning a major offensive on the northern city of Kunduz when Afghan and NATO forces launched the operation against them Thursday that resulted in the deaths of two U.S. soldiers, several Afghan commandos and more than 20 civilians, officials said.

The operation came in response to credible reports that the insurgents were organizing an attack from the Buze Kandahari village, just outside Kunduz, Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Dawlat Waziri said Saturday.

“The reports suggested that the Taliban were planning another siege of Kunduz city from this area,” Waziri said during a news conference in Kabul.

Last month, Taliban fighters briefly infiltrated parts of Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth-largest city. Fighting has continued on the city’s outskirts and in Kunduz province. The insurgents occupied the entire city last year before being expelled by government forces.

The Pentagon on Friday identified Capt. Andrew D. Byers, 30, of Rolesville, N.C., and Sgt. 1st Class Ryan A. Gloyer, 34, of Greenville, Pa., as the two U.S. soldiers who were killed in the operation.

Byers and Gloyer were assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Carson, Colo.

Waziri said that Afghan forces provided initial air support for the operation, which began at 3 a.m. on Thursday, but U.S. airstrikes were requested after the Afghan and U.S. forces came under fire.

Taliban commanders Mullah Zia-ur-Rahman, Mullah Mansour, Mullah Ahmadyar and Qari Bilal were killed in the fighting, as were several of Zia-ur-Rahman’s family members, who were in the house, Waziri said.

Twenty-four civilians, including women and children, were killed, according to Kunduz police spokesman Hijratullah Akbari.

Many residents in the area were outraged by the civilian deaths and appeared to blame them on the United States. Videos posted online of a protest in Kunduz city show people chanting, “Death to America.”

Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, spokesman for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said during Saturday’s news conference that it was “very likely” the operation resulted in civilian casualties and that an investigation was underway. He could not say whether U.S. airstrikes were likely responsible for the civilian deaths.

U.S. Defense Department officials said Byers and Gloyer had left a helicopter and were moving on foot with Afghan forces toward the house of Zia-ur-Rahman when they came under enemy fire. Four other U.S. service members were injured in the fighting.

Both American soldiers killed in the operation were awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals posthumously, The Associated Press reported.

Byers had been in the Army for more than eight years and had been previously deployed to Italy and the Democratic Republic of Congo, The Denver Post reported. He had been awarded the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal and the Meritorious Unit Award, it said.

Gloyer had been on his third tour in Afghanistan and had received a Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Achievement Medal and the Valorous Unit Award, according to the daily.

In a separate announcement Friday, the Pentagon confirmed that a U.S. airstrike on Oct. 23 killed an al-Qaida leader in Kunar province.

Faruq al-Qatani was al-Qaida’s top leader for eastern Afghanistan and one of the terrorist group’s senior plotters of attacks against the United States, the statement said.

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

wellman.phillip@stripes.com
Twitter: @PhillipWellman

 

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Dawlat Waziri attends a briefing on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, in Kabul where he spoke about an operation in Kunduz in which two U.S. servicemembers died Thursday as coalition forces were targeting Taliban commanders who were planning a major offensive.
PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN/STARS AND STRIPES

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