U.S. Service Member Killed, Four Wounded in Afghanistan Combat

(The Washington Post) -

A U.S. service member was killed and four others were wounded on Monday during an operation in a part of Afghanistan in which U.S. forces have been combating both the Islamic State and the Taliban, U.S. military officials said on Tuesday.

The fatality occurred in Nangarhar province’s Achin district, in a mountainous area along the border with Pakistan. The Islamic State in Khorasan, the terrorist group’s Afghan affiliate, established roots there in 2014, and the U.S. military launched a series of raids and airstrikes there in 2017 as it stepped up its campaign against the group.

U.S. military officials acknowledged the fatality on Tuesday in a news release, saying that two of the wounded service members were receiving treatment at a nearby medical facility and were in stable condition. The other two wounded service members have returned to duty, the news release said.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our own,” said Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the senior U.S. military commander in Afghanistan. “At this very difficult time our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of our fallen and wounded brothers.”

U.S. military officials in Afghanistan could not immediately be reached for additional comment. The name of the service member killed was being withheld as family members were notified.

At least 15 U.S. service members died in Afghanistan in 2017, including 11 in hostile actions. Seven of the 11 killed in combat died in Nangarhar province. The most recent combat fatality there occurred on Aug. 16, when Army Staff Sgt. Aaron R. Butler, 27, was killed by an improvised device. He was a member of the 19th Special Forces Group.

Nicholson told Pentagon reporters in a news briefing on Nov. 28 that IS-K at one point had a presence in nine districts spanning three provinces in eastern Afghanistan, but that U.S.-led counter-terrorism operations had reduced that to three. Terrorists in Achin were pushed into mountains that border Pakistan and were attempting to move west from there through access points in the mountains, the general said.

“Remember most of these Daesh fighters came from Pakistan,” Nicholson said, using an alternate name for IS. “They go through the passes of southern Nangarhar and they move back to their home agency.”

The general said that there were likely about 600 to 800 IS terrorists in Nangarhar. An additional 300 were spread out between two other provinces, in his estimation: Kunar province, which borders Nangarhar, and Jowzjan, in northwestern Afghanistan.