FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHANK, Afghanistan — The Pentagon has identified three soldiers killed in Tuesday’s suicide bombing in Wardak province.

They were 1st Lt. Jonam Russell, 25, of Cornville, Ariz.; Sgt. Stefan M. Smith, 24, of Glennville, Ga., and Spc. Rob L. Nichols, 24, of Colorado Springs, Colo., the Defense Department said in a release.

The victims, based at Combat Outpost Soltan Kheyl, were members of 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. They were on patrol with Afghan soldiers in the village of Soltan Kheyl when a suicide bomber approached with a donkey concealing a bomb, according to local officials.

A translator was killed and four Afghan soldiers were wounded. The attacker, who was standing next to the donkey when the bomb detonated, also died, according to the commander of the Afghan army’s 4th Brigade.

Brig. Gen. Abdul Raziq said the troops had noticed the donkey on their way to and from the village, but there was other livestock in the area as well.

“It’s not the first time they’ve used a donkey,” Raziq said. “We have to learn our lesson. We have to be careful.”

Col. Kimo C. Gallahue, commander of the 4th IBCT, based at Forward Operating Base Shank, praised the courage of those killed.

“Those kids walk outside the wire every day because they walk out together,” Gallahue said. “We are in a risky business and there is great risk in everything we do, but I firmly believe that we are doing the right thing here at the right time.”

Casualties among NATO soldiers have dropped significantly as the coalition scales back its presence on the battlefield and as Afghan forces increasingly take the lead in operations.

However, Afghan troops have suffered increasingly heavy losses. Earlier this week, the Afghan Ministry of the Interior revealed that more than 2,700 police officers have been killed since March 21, an average of 22 police deaths per day.

Cid Standifer contributed reporting from Kabul.

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