U.S. forces suffered the first combat death in Afghanistan since January when a service member was killed by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Helmand province.
The public affairs office for the NATO Resolute Support mission said another U.S. service member was wounded during operations near Lashkar Gar and was in stable condition. Six Afghan soldiers were also wounded.
The deceased service member, whose identity was withheld pending notification of next of kin, was killed conducting train, advise and assist activities with Afghan counterparts, according to officials, who added the incident is under further investigation.
“On behalf of all U.S. Forces – Afghanistan, as well as Resolute Support, our deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of those involved,” said Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of USFOR-A and Resolute Support. “We are deeply saddened by this loss, but remain committed to helping our Afghan partners provide a brighter future for themselves and their children.”
Five U.S. service members were injured last month helping Afghan forces fight ISIS in Nangarhar province.
But the Helmand operation is against the Taliban — an al-Qaeda-allied group that the U.S. government won’t brand a terrorist organization as they encourage the Afghan government in Kabul to strike a deal with the Taliban.
More than 100 U.S. troops have been sent to Helmand as the Taliban threaten to take the city of Lashkar Gah.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters Monday that the troops were “an expeditionary advisory package.”
“They’ve been sent first to provide training, advise and assist to the police zone headquarters there in Lashkar Gah, and second to provide force protection for those actually doing the advising. So some of these forces are there to protect those forces, and they were all done under the Resolute Support mission,” Cook said.
“They’ve gone down there to assist the police zone headquarters and their leadership team with a focused train, advise and assist mission, looking largely at the force protection issue. And this will not be a permanent presence. They will return to their base at some point.”
Cook said the goal of the mission remains “to enable the Afghan security forces to better defend the country on their own.”
“That’s been the goal of our mission there and the reason our forces are there in the first place, in addition to, of course, the counterterrorism mission that they’re carrying out. And so we will certainly continue to maintain that relationship with the Afghan government and expand our security relationship to make sure that the — Afghanistan continues to move in a forward direction with regard to its own safety and security,” he said.
The Taliban, which have been conducting their Operation Omari offensive since spring, said in a statement last week that “just as we rescued our homeland from the English colonialists and Soviet occupiers with historical sacrifices, we are hopeful to once again attain our freedom from the occupation of America and her allies with the blessing of divine help.”
“The Islamic Emirate calls on the supposed Afghan faces – who have aided the invaders in occupying our Islamic country and are still standing by their side – to end importing anti-Islamic foreign ideologies to Afghanistan, stop aiding the invaders and learn from the defeat and humiliating condition of the communists,” the Taliban added in the message posted on their website. “Stop betrayal and disloyalty towards your people and religion and instead join hands with your nation in their pursuit of an Islamic system and independence of the country.”
Last year, the White House said the Taliban weren’t terrorists as the administration justified the swap for Bowe Bergdahl. The administration position hasn’t changed as it pushes for a “reconciliation process.”
“The Taliban is an armed insurgency. ISIL is a terrorist group. So we don’t make concessions to terrorist groups,” spokesman Eric Schultz said in January 2015.