Pentagon Identifies Seventh U.S. Service Member Killed In Afghanistan Ahead of 17-year War Anniversary

U.S. Army Spc. James Slape became the seventh U.S. service member killed in combat in Afghanistan this year when he was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on October 4, 2018 Facebook

Defense Department officials on Friday identified the seventh U.S. service member killed in Afghanistan this year as Sunday marks the 17-year anniversary of America's longest running war.

U.S. Army Specialist James A. Slape, 23, from Morehead City, North Carolina, was fatally wounded Thursday as he worked to clear an area of improvised explosive devices after a blast had damaged a vehicle in the southern Helmand Province of Afghanistan.

Slape, an explosive ordnance disposal specialist assigned to the 430th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, 60th Troop Command, North Carolina Army National Guard, located out of Washington, D.C., had left his vehicle and was working to clear the area when another improvised explosive device detonated, said Sergeant First Class Debra Richardson, a spokeswoman for the NATO Resolute Support mission Kabul via email.

Slape "was medically evacuated to a medical care facility but despite valiant efforts to save him, his wounds were fatal," Richardson said. Slape was posthumously promoted from specialist to sergeant.

The 23-year-old first joined the National Guard in 2013 and graduated from the Army's explosive ordnance disposal course in 2015. He deployed with his unit in April and was scheduled to return home in the spring of 2019, said Lieutenant Colonel Matthew DeVivo, a North Carolina National Guard spokesman.

"We mourn and honor the sacrifice of our service member," said Resolute Support and United States Forces—Afghanistan Commanding General Scott Miller in a press release on Thursday. "We remain committed."

A Taliban spokesmen took credit for the explosion on Thursday via social media.

Slape's death marks the seventh combat fatality in Afghanistan this year for U.S. forces. Another U.S. soldier was killed last month in a non-combat related event shortly after Miller took command of the U.S. advisory mission of roughly 14,000 U.S. forces currently assigned to the U.S.-led NATO coalition last month.

Miller succeeded General John Nicholson, Afghanistan's longest-serving commander of NATO forces. Nicholson told audience members in Kabul last month that Afghans should stop killing their fellow citizens as he urged the Taliban to negotiate a peace deal between the U.S. and Afghan government.

"Make no mistake: Until you are willing to start talking, we will keep fighting," Nicholson said last month.

The Trump administration has attempted to broker a peace treaty between the Afghan government and the Taliban, but dialogue has stalled as the Taliban desire a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Peace talks could take place in Moscow as the Kremlin annouced in August that the country was seeking to resolve the longstanding conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban, but no offical date has been set for those meetings.

Meanwhile on Thursday, U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command, located in Tampa, Florida, spoke to reporters at the Pentagon by telephone.

U.S Central Command has jurisdiction over Afghanistan, along with other Middle East countries such as Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Votel said that Afghan casualties are "an area of important focus" as Afghan national security forces within the military and police undergo significant battlefield losses after a "difficult and bloody summer," which ended on September 23.

Votel did not say how many Afghan troops have been killed this year, but indicated that casualties are increasing, but "the Afghans are sustaining themselves."

The U.S. military command in Kabul does not publically release the numbers of Afghan casualties at the request of the Afghan government.

"What we are trying to do is make sure that the Afghans are employing their forces in a manner that doesn't unnecessarily expose them to these kind of large casualty-producing incidents," Votel said. "One of the particular ways we're trying to do that is through reducing their dependence on these remote, poorly defended, difficult to support and sustain checkpoints that they have in various parts around the country. And so, its specific focus with the Afghan leadership, both political and military, as well as with our advisers on the ground to help them reduce this."

Last month, the highest-ranking enlisted soldier of the U.S. Army's newest adviser brigade deployed to Afghanistan was killed in a insider threat attack.

U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major Timothy A. Bolyard, 42, of Thornton, West Virginia, was on his 13th overseas deployment when he was killed at Forward Operating Base Shank, located in the eastern Logar Province.

The highly-decorated soldier, who was awarded the Bronze Star—the nation's fourth highest military decoration—on six different occasions, was killed after two Afghan police officers opened fire on Bolyard, killing him and wounding another American soldier. The September shooting remains under investigation.

Sunday marks 17 years since the U.S. first entered Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Since then, more than 2,250 Americans have been killed with another 130 being killed elsewhere while supporting the war. Almost 21,000 have been wounded in America's longest-running war.