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Army Rangers Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas
Army Rangers Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas (U.S. Army)

WASHINGTON — Army Rangers Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas were the two soldiers killed Wednesday in a raid targeting top Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon, which is investigating the possibility their deaths were the result of friendly fire.

The two Rangers were mortally wounded within moments of getting off a helicopter near an ISIS headquarters compound in Nangarhar province. The compound is within one mile of the location where the United States dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb earlier this month for the first time in combat.

The raid force of about 50 Rangers alongside 40 Afghan commandos came under “intense fire” from every direction as it landed, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. Thomas and Rodgers might have been unintentionally shot by another American soldier or an Afghan commando, Davis told reporters Friday at the Pentagon. U.S. commanders have launched an official investigation, known as a 15-6, into the incident.

Thomas and Rodgers were members of the elite 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning in Georgia.

A third soldier was injured Wednesday in the raid, the Pentagon said. That soldier’s name was not released. He suffered a minor head injury and remained in the fight throughout the three-to-four hour battle, Davis said.

Rodgers, 22, of Bloomington, Illinois, was a Ranger team leader with the battalion’s C Company, according to Army Special Operation Command. He joined the Army after graduating high school in 2013 as an infantryman. He was on his third deployment to Afghanistan.

Thomas, 23, of Kettering, Ohio, was an anti-armor specialist with the 3rd Ranger Battalion’s D Company. He joined the army as an infantryman in 2012 after graduating high school. Like Rodgers, he was on his third deployment to Afghanistan.

The Wednesday raid came as U.S. and Afghan special operations forces continue to pressure ISIS in Afghanistan. The target of the raid was the terrorist group’s Afghan Emir Abdul Haseeb, Davis said. Haseeb was responsible for command and control of ISIS forces in Afghanistan and had ties to the terrorist organization’s parent group in Iraq and Syria.

The raid killed at least 35 ISIS fighters, including several top commanders, but Davis said he could not confirm whether Haseeb was among them.

“We suspect he was killed,” he said.

Since early March, American special operators have been heavily engaged in the fight against the terrorist group, said Army Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

The terrorist organization’s Afghan affiliate, ISIS-Khorasan, is made up primarily of former members of the Taliban and other terrorist networks in Afghanistan. While the United States mission in Afghanistan remains primarily on training and supporting Afghan security forces through NATO, it does retain a unilateral counterterrorism mission focused primarily on targeting ISIS and al-Qaida.

Nicholson has listed destroying ISIS in Afghanistan among his top priorities for this year.

“We’re going to keep going until they're defeated in 2017,” the general said Monday in Kabul.

A senior American military official in Afghanistan this week told reporters that ISIS had been cut by more than two-thirds since 2015, leaving only about 500 to 800 fighters remaining in Achin and two other remote districts in the mountains of Nangarhar, along the Pakistan border. The group once boasted some 3,000 fighters and a presence throughout at least three provinces, the official said.

Nonetheless, ISIS-Khorasan has proven its ability to continue to affect the battlefield in Afghanistan, where U.S. forces have been fighting for 16 years. The group claimed responsibility for the March assault on a Kabul hospital that killed some 50 people and is responsible for the deaths of three American soldiers in 2017. Army Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, a 37-year-old Green Beret, was killed April 8 near Achin. Five days later, the United States dropped the GBU-34B Massive Ordinance Air Blast, known as the "Mother of All of Bombs," on an ISIS tunnel complex there. Afghan officials said it killed some 100 militants, but the Pentagon has declined to discuss the bomb’s impact on the war effort.

Rodgers was a 2013 graduate of Normal Community High School, where he ran track and played football, according to the Pantagraph, a newspaper that covers the Ranger’s hometown.

Rodgers had always wanted to be an Army Ranger, according to his high school coaches, the newspaper reported.

“Josh was a tremendous kid,” His football coach, Wes Temples, said. “When I hear his name, what comes to mind is how hard he worked no matter what it was, whether it was football or school. He did things the right way.”

Thomas was a 2012 Kettering Fairmont High School graduate and, like Rodgers, he was an athlete. According to a WHIO-TV 7 report, he was a swimmer.

“It’s sad,” Fairmont Principal Tyler Alexander told the TV station. “We respect what he chose to do to fight for our country, to provide us with an opportunity to have what we have.” Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.
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