Soldier killed in attack that ended US-Taliban peace talks laid to rest at Arlington

Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Morovis, Puerto Rico, rubs noses with his son, Jacknel Barreto-Aponte, now 4. Barreto died Sept. 5, 2019, when a Taliban suicide bomb tore through his convoy in the Afghan capital.


By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 30, 2019

Preparing for her husband’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz’s widow said she had only begun to grieve since his death earlier this month on his second deployment to Afghanistan.

“This whole thing has changed me,” Legna Aponte, the 34-year-old soldier’s wife, said in a phone call with Stars and Stripes ahead of the funeral Monday. “My heart is broken.”

The two grew up in neighboring towns in their native Puerto Rico and had been together for 12 years before Barreto, as her husband was known, was killed in an attack in Kabul.

Barreto, who was part of a driving team for special operations troops in Kabul, was killed when a suicide car bomb tore through his unarmored pickup truck, killing him and a Romanian soldier. The Sept. 5 blast also killed about a dozen civilians.

Calling the paratrooper from the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 82nd Airborne Division “one of our great, great soldiers,” President Donald Trump cited Barreto’s death as a catalyst for his decision earlier this month to abruptly end peace talks with the Taliban, just as they were widely believed to be on the verge of producing a deal to end America’s longest war.

For Raymond Giebas, who served with Barreto at the beginning of his career, that was a powerful gesture by the president.

“For him to do that for a soldier that he has never met in his life, that’s awesome,” the retired sergeant said.

Barreto’s death was the 16th U.S. combat fatality in Afghanistan this year, which has been the deadliest for American forces since 2014. A 17th American, Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy W. Griffin, was killed during fighting in Wardak province on Sept. 16.

Barreto doted on his two sons and his daughter, his wife said in a phone interview Friday. He would ask her to bring them to his office whenever he had time on his hands.

His fellow soldiers recalled him as a man of humor and warmth. He’d been assigned to the airborne division’s 82nd Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team since January 2018.

“His paratroopers respected the hell out of him because he cared for them,” said 1st Lt. Kyle Cory, a platoon leader, who said he received copious advice from the slain soldier.

The two talked over plates of enchiladas and a burrito during their last lunch before Barreto’s deployment to Afghanistan this June, he said Sunday.

“He was ready to go and do the mission,” Cory said. “He had a spark, a pep in his step.”

Cory escorted his friend’s remains in a hearse from Dover Air Force Base to Arlington on Sept. 20.

“One last convoy,” Cory said. “I just got to be there for my guy one more time … just like he had been there for me.”

Twitter: @jplawrence3

Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz was killed in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan on Sept. 5, 2019.