VOA News / January 5, 2016
PENTAGON – One U.S. service member was killed and two others were wounded Tuesday during fighting in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, where Taliban fighters recently have expanded their operations.
U.S. defense officials said American special forces units were involved in the operation near the city of Marja, a scene of intense fighting in recent weeks.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters Tuesday the U.S. troops “came under fire while conducting a train, advise and assist mission with their Afghan special operations counterparts.”
A helicopter was sent to evacuate the wounded, but was unable to take off from Marja when a rotor struck a wall compound, a senior defense official told VOA Tuesday on the condition of anonymity. He added that the helicopter is still in Marja trying to evacuate the wounded.
Another official, U.S. Colonel Michael Lawhorn, told VOA the helicopter “was not shot down.”
Intense mortar fire prevented a second U.S. military medevac helicopter from landing, according to a senior defense official.
Marja is one of several parts of Helmand under control of the Taliban. Taliban insurgents have put pressure on the province in southern Afghanistan’s poppy-growing region for months.
Ten of Helmand’s 14 districts either have fallen to the Taliban or have an uncertain status in the midst of fighting between the Afghan government’s security forces and Taliban fighters.
The insurgents’ advances have prompted commanders of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan to deploy American and British military advisers last month to help Afghan forces better coordinate their efforts to re-take lost territory in Helmand, Afghanistan’s largest province.
“The support we’re providing to the Afghan security forces is not only necessary, but it’s improving their capability, improving their resiliency,” Cook said.
According to U.N. data from October, the Taliban insurgency has spread across Afghanistan more than at any other point since 2001. Cook would not concede that Afghan security forces are losing ground.
The U.S. soldier killed Tuesday was not identified.
“We are deeply saddened by this loss,” Brigadier General Wilson A. Shoffner, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said.
VOA’s Ayaz Gul contributed to this report