WASHINGTON — Two U.S. troops were killed and two others were wounded in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, allegedly at the hands of an Afghan soldier who opened fired on them, an official there told The Associated Press.
The apparent insider attack occurred Achin, an Islamic State stronghold along the Pakistan border in Nangarhar province. A spokesman for the provincial governor told the news service that the Afghan soldier was subsequently killed.
U.S. military officials in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to questions from Military Times. Members of the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, out of Fort Benning, Georgia, have been operating in Achin for the last several months.Achin has been the scene of worsening violence in recent months as U.S. special forces and elite Afghan commandos intensify their efforts against ISIS loyalists in the region, a group known as ISIS Khorasan or ISIS-K. Saturday’s attack comes, too, as the Trump administration debates sending up to 5,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan to the help break what senior military leaders have declared a stalemate.
ISIS Khorasan is an affiliate of the Islamic State’s core network in Syria and Iraq. It receives tactical advice and some financial support from outside Afghanistan, but U.S. officials have said it does not appear there’s been an influx of fighters from either country. An estimated 400 to 700 ISIS-K militants are active throughout Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, officials said in late-April after three U.S. special forces soldiers died in separate incidents there.Hoping to flush ISIS from its stronghold, American and Afghan forces launched Operation Hamza in early March. Apart from regular ground battles, the U.S. launched a massive airstrike on an ISIS tunnel complex in mid-April. The attack left upwards of 100 militants dead.
This intensified push against ISIS comes as the Taliban also steps up its activity targeting U.S. and Afghan forces elsewhere in the country. In mid-March, three U.S soldiers were shot and wounded in another apparent insider attack at an Afghan military base in Helmand province.
Approximately 8,000 U.S. troops are deployed to Afghanistan as part of two separate operations. The larger of the two, known as Resolute Support, is focused on advising and assisting Afghan security forces with the goal of enabling them to independently protect the country’s populace from a resilient Taliban. The other is a counter-terrorism mission called Freedom’s Sentinel. It comprises mostly elite special operations troops and remains focused on targeting ISIS-K and the many al-Qaida affiliates present in Afghanistan.
Andrew deGrandpre is Military Times’ senior editor and Pentagon bureau chief. On Twitter: