A team of American and Afghan special forces remain pinned down near the town of Marja in the embattled Helmand province hours after a fierce gunfight with the Taliban on Tuesday killed one U.S. soldier and wounded two others.
The troops were forced to shelter at the site for the night after a pair U.S. rescue helicopters failed to pull them out. One struck a wall on landing, and the other was waved off due to heavy fire, leaving the dead and the injured on the ground while the survivors to continued to fight it out through the night. A U.S. defense official said that there was heavy American U.S. air support protecting the troops still on the ground, and that another attempt to fly them out will come in the coming hours when day breaks in Afghanistan.
The casualties come after American commandos were rushed to Helmand in recent weeks to try and stem a relentless Taliban assault on many of the province’s main population centers.
The first U.S. casualties of 2016 come just two weeks after six American servicemembers were killed near the sprawling Bagram airfield when a suicide bomber detonated near their vehicle. Overall, 22 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan since the end of combat operations.
Since U.S. and NATO troops ended their combat mission in the country in January 2015, the Taliban have fought hard to regain control over many of their former strongholds, attacking Afghanistan’s security personnel on multiple fronts. As a result of the months-long offensive, Kabul has steadily lost ground, particularly in key districts in Helmand that American and British troops paid a heavy price to take just a few years ago.
Many of the Taliban’s most significant gains have come in the country’s south and east. In Helmand, the insurgents have taken the districts of Musa Qala and Nawzad and are threatening Sangin — the scene of months of bloody fighting by American and British forces. Taliban fighters are also on the doorstep of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.
In an effort to stem these losses, U.S. commanders sent special operations teams into Helmand, but the extent of their operations there are unknown. The U.K. also deployed a small team of advisers to the province.
The death of the American commando comes on the heels of an October incident in Iraq where a U.S. Delta Force soldier, Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler, 39, was killed in action, the first U.S. combat death in Iraq since 2011. Since then, President Barack Obama has said he would dispatch up to 200 more American commandos to Iraq to begin hitting Islamic State targets across Iraq and Syria.
Photo Credit: U.S. Army