November 3, 2016
ISLAMABAD — The U.S. military says that two of its service members died as a result of wounds they sustained during early morning counter-Taliban operations in northern Afghanistan.
“The service members came under fire during a train, advise and assist mission with our Afghan partners to clear a Taliban position and disrupt the group’s operations in Kunduz district,” the military said in a statement issued in Kabul.
Two other Americans were wounded during the mission.
The Commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, described the loss as “heartbreaking” and offered deepest condolences on behalf of his forces to the families and friends of the victims.
“Our wounded soldiers are receiving the best medical care possible and we are keeping them and their families in our thoughts today, as well,” he said.
Despite the tragic event, the general said, U.S. forces are steadfast in their commitment to help Afghan partners defend their nation.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, says that three of its fighters were also killed in the pre-dawn clashes, which erupted after the U.S. military raided an insurgent-held compound in Kunduz city.
In a statement sent to media, Mujahid gave a much higher death toll inflicted on U.S. forces and alleged that the deadly clashes prompted “occupying forces,” a reference to the U.S.-led military coalition, to conduct airstrikes on civilian areas, causing many casualties.
Local media reported dozens of people took to the streets of Kunduz to protest killings of civilians allegedly in the early morning airstrike. The protesters were said to be carrying bodies of about 20 people, including children.
Afghan media reports are quoting residents and victim families as confirming dozens of civilian casualties, including women and children in the overnight fighting. But it is not clear yet how they died.
Kunduz has been under attack from the Taliban for weeks and the insurgents came close to capturing the city early last month before Afghan forces pushed them back with the help of U.S. air power.
The provincial capital briefly fell to the Taliban about a year ago.
Despite the onset of Afghan winter, there has been no let-up in Taliban attacks, particularly in northern provinces.
Afghan security forces have been able to keep the insurgents from capturing any urban center only with the U.S. assistance, said the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
The U.S. government monitoring agency in its quarterly report released earlier this week revealed that in the first eight months of 2016, Afghan forces suffered more than 5,500 killed while around 10,000 were wounded.
It said the Afghan government also suffered territorial loses during this period. The Taliban has stepped up battlefield attacks since August, inflicting more casualties on government forces.
According to the U.S. military assessment, Afghan forces’ suffered around 5,000 deaths while 15,000 were wounded during the entire year of 2015.