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Two U.S. service members killed in helicopter crash during Afghanistan combat

  • Author: Sayed Salahuddin, Susannah George, The Washington Post
  • Updated: November 20, 2019
  • Published November 20, 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan - Two American service members were killed Wednesday when their helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan while supporting combat operations, according to the U.S. military.

The military said the fatalities brought to 19 the number of U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan this year, adding that the crash is under investigation.

The Taliban said the helicopter was shot down as Afghan and U.S. forces were preparing to launch an attack in the area, according to a statement from Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman. The statement identified the helicopter as a Chinook, but Fawad Aman, the Afghan Defense Ministry deputy spokesman, said it was a smaller combat helicopter.

A lawmaker from Logar province said the crash occurred near an American outpost in the province. The helicopter "hit a mountainous area, and we understand that it occurred five kilometers away from a U.S. base," Mohammed Asif said.

Nineteen service members have been killed this year by hostile forces, surpassing the total of 13 who were killed in 2018. About 2,400 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. A U.S. Special Forces soldier was killed by small-arms fire in eastern Afghanistan on Sept. 16. Earlier that month, a suicide bombing in Kabul killed another service member, and the attack prompted President Trump to break off talks with the Taliban.

The Trump administration is intent on bringing home the bulk of U.S. forces by next year. But efforts to negotiate a peace deal to facilitate the withdrawal were scuttled in September. Since then, top U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad has sought to restart talks by negotiating a prisoner swap as a goodwill gesture.

On Tuesday, an American and an Australian were freed from Taliban custody, and the Afghan government released three high-profile militants linked to the Taliban.

Over the past year, the United States reduced its troop strength unilaterally, cutting 2,000 troops and bringing the total number of American troops in Afghanistan down to about 13,000.

In a draft of the peace deal between the United States and the Taliban, U.S. troop levels were set to decline to 8,600, down from 100,000 in 2011.

If talks do restart in the wake of the prisoner exchange, it is unclear whether the two sides will return to the agreement reached in September.

While the role of the U.S. military in Afghanistan has been described by the Afghan government as mentoring or training, security forces still rely heavily on American support to carry out operations, according to a Pentagon study released in June.