DoD Identifies Two U.S. Soldiers Killed by an Improvised Explosive Device in Afghanistan

82nd Airborne Division Paratroopers Killed in Action
from left to right: Staff Sgt. Ian Paul McLaughlin of Newport News, Va., and Pfc. Miguel Angel Villalon of Joliet, Ill. 82nd Airborne Division/82nd Airborne Division

The Department of Defense (DoD) on Sunday identified two American troops who died after an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated this weekend in southern Afghanistan.

The two service members—Staff Sgt. Ian P. McLaughlin, 29, of Newport News, Virginia, and Pfc. Miguel A. Villalon, 21, of Joliet, Illinois—were killed in action on Saturday when their vehicle was struck by an IED in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Both soldiers were assigned to the 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

"When our Nation called for its best Airborne Combat Engineers to deploy into harm's way, Staff Sgt. McLaughlin and Pfc. Villalon answered without hesitation. They lived their motto, 'Essayons,' and embodied the values of the All American Engineer," Col. Art Sellers, Commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, said in a statement. "Their loved ones are now surrounded by a caring community offering comfort and assistance through this difficult time."

Newsweek first reported yesterday of the two fallen troops after they were struck in the stretch of topography known as the ground defense area of Kandahar Airfield. However, the identities of those killed were held at the time pending notification of the families, per a long-standing Defense Department policy. Two others were wounded in the incident.

A statement from Resolute Support officials announcing the deaths said the strike took place amid an operation that was a part of NATO's Resolute Support mission. McLaughlin and Villalon were the first U.S. troop casualties in the war in Afghanistan since the start of 2020.

McLaughlin joined the Army in 2012 and was assigned to the 62nd Engineer Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas as a Horizontal Construction Engineer. In 2016, he was assigned to the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, where he continued to service as in his role before later becoming a Squad Leader. McLaughlin's awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal and the Army Commendation Medal with "C" Device.

Villalon joined the Army in 2018 and was assigned to the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, where he served as a Combat Engineer. Villalon's awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal and the Army Commendation Medal.

This was both soldiers' first combat deployment. The incident is currently still under investigation.

"These paratroopers represent the very best of our Nation and our Army," said Maj. Gen. James Mingus, the 82nd Airborne Division Commander. "Three time volunteers, they went when our Nation called and paid the ultimate sacrifice. They will be honored, mourned, but never forgotten and we are committed to taking care of their families for life."

Although the Taliban have said the contention between Washington and Tehran would not impede peace talks, the incident came amid escalating tensions between the two powers.

The Trump administration initiated negotiations with the Taliban aimed at ending the war. However, these talks have been stalled as violence between insurgents and the U.S.-backed Kabul government continues. Last year, 20 U.S. troops lost their lives fighting the Taliban and other insurgent groups, a figure higher than that of any other year since 2014. In 2018, 13 were killed, compared to 11 in 2017.