Two U.S. service members were killed in Afghanistan on Monday, the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission said in a statement, as U.S. President Donald Trump wants to reduce combat forces in Afghanistan, accelerating efforts to reach a negotiated end to the nearly 18-year-old war.
There is no further detail about the incident, and the names of the service members were withheld until next of kin were informed. A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the incident took place in Kandahar and it was a “green-on-blue” attack, meaning insider attacks, in which Afghan service members or attackers wearing Afghan uniforms fired on U.S. coalition troops, a regular feature of the conflict in Afghanistan, although their frequency has diminished in recent years.
About 14,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces and to carry out counter-terrorism operations. The attack brings the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this month to three and at least 11 in 2019, adding to an anxious mood and fueling on a concern in Kabul about the future of U.S. military support for the Afghan government.
Withdrawing combat forces overseas and bringing U.S. soldiers back home have been part of Trump’s core campaign agenda. The Taliban has said it will turn to “intra-Afghan” issues only if the U.S. agrees to withdraw troops, leading to speculation that Trump is prepared to strike any deal with the Taliban insurgency that will allow for at least partial U.S. withdrawal before American voters go to the polls, irrespective of concerns by the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Monday that Trump is unambiguous to “end the endless wars, draw down, reduce.”
His comments also come at a delicate moment, as the U.S. prepares to engage in another round talk with the Taliban in Doha. U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad went to Kabul last week and he is expected to fly to Doha this week to forge a peace deal with the Taliban. Some suspected that disclosing Trump’s goals of a troop drawdown could weaken the U.S. negotiating position if the Taliban believes Trump does want to withdraw before the November 2020 election.
Washington wants to negotiate a deal under which foreign forces would pull out in return for security guarantees by the Taliban, including a pledge that the country will not become a safe haven for terror groups.
“We want them to take their country back and we want to reduce what is, for us, tens of billions of dollars a year in expenditures,” Pompeo said, adding he was “optimistic” about negotiations with the Taliban and the Afghan government.
(With input from agencies)