The Pentagon on Thursday released the name of the Army special forces soldier killed during a firefight in Helmand province, Afghanistan, earlier this week.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Q. McClintock, 30, of Des Moines, Washington, was killed Tuesday during a joint U.S.-Afghan operation in the city of Marja when his unit came under small-arms fire. Two other U.S. soldiers were wounded, as were an unknown number of Afghan special forces soldiers. During the fighting, a special operations helicopter was forced to land after suffering damage to its rotor blades when it hit a wall, according to Pentagon officials. A second helicopter sent to retrieve the casualties was forced away from the landing zone after receiving heavy enemy ground fire. Several hours later the casualties were eventually evacuated, while a quick reaction force remained behind to secure the downed helicopter.
McClintock belonged to Alpha Company of 1st Battalion, 19th Group, a National Guard Special Forces unit based out of Fort Lewis, Washington. Special Forces units like 19th Group have been a staple of the war in Afghanistan since the first U.S. ground troops landed there in late 2001. Their primary job is training local military units and fighting alongside them in what is known as “Foreign Internal Defense.” Even though U.S.-led combat operations officially ended in 2014, small pockets of special forces units have continued to operate with Afghan forces in a mentoring role, while other counterterror units have remained in Afghanistan to prevent the resurgence of terror groups like al-Qaida.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters Tuesday that the special forces soldiers were advising and assisting Afghan special forces troops when they came under fire.
“Staff Sergeant McClintock was one of the best of the best,” Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, commander of the Washington National Guard, said in a statement Thursday. “He was a Green Beret who sacrificed time away from his loved ones to train for and carry out these dangerous missions. This is a tough loss for our organization, and a harsh reminder that ensuring freedom is not free. We stand with Staff Sergeant McClintock’s family, and will provide ongoing support during the grieving and healing process.”
McClintock, a special forces engineer sergeant, joined the Army in 2006 as an infantryman and shortly after basic training was assigned to the 1st Calvary Division where he deployed to Iraq, according to the biography released by the Washington National Guard. After his first deployment he bounced around between various units before attending Army Special Forces selection in 2009. Upon completion of Special Forces training he was assigned to 1st Special Forces Group, where he then deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. He left active duty in 2014 and was subsequently assigned to 19th Group. His awards include four Army commendation medals, the Combat Infantryman Badge and now the Purple Heart. He leaves behind Joyce Helgeson, his wife, and Declan, his 3-month-old son.
The heavy fighting in Marja comes as the Taliban once again spreads throughout southern Afghanistan. The Taliban, a predominantly Pashtun group, started in Helmand province before taking over other parts of the country in the 1990s, only to be toppled in the months following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. In recent weeks, fighting has been so intense in towns throughout Helmand province that the province’s deputy governor had to make a plea on social media to the government in Kabul to send more resources to the beleaguered troops and police surrounded there.
Marja was the site of one of the largest operations of the war, when, in 2010, Marines landed in the city and retook it from the Taliban at a heavy cost. The operation, called Moshtarak, was the first major mission undertaken by U.S. forces after President Obama authorized a 30,000-strong troop surge into the country in late 2009.
In November, the Taliban retook most of the city, leaving Afghan forces in control of only a few key positions near the city’s center.
McClintock’s death marks the first U.S. loss in Afghanistan in 2016. Last month, six U.S. airmen were killed when a suicide bomber detonated next to their patrol outside the Bagram airfield. According to iCasualties.org, 22 U.S. service members lost their lives in Afghanistan in 2015.