Pentagon Identifies US Special Forces Soldier Killed in Afghanistan, Third in Less Than Two Weeks

Dustin Ard Afghanistan
Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Ard, 31, was killed in combat on Thursday in Zabul Province, Afghanistan. Handout/U.S. Army Special Operations Command

Pentagon officials on Saturday identified the third Special Forces soldier in over a week to die in America's longest running-war, the same day heavy fighting broke out in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz amid ongoing negotiations to close out the post-9/11 war that has cost billions of dollars and left thousands of families permanently shattered.

U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Dustin B. Ard, 31, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, died Thursday from wounds he sustained during combat operations in Zabul, a southern Afghan province bordering Kandahar.

The U.S. Army Special Operations Command issued a brief statement announcing Ard's death which did not provide any further detail on how the Green Beret was wounded or the circumstances of his mission. A Department of Defense source, who spoke to Newsweek on condition of anonymity, said Ard was part of a helicopter assault force conducting operations in what they described as "Taliban country."

Ard is the third Special Forces soldier to die in Afghanistan in less than two weeks. Master Sergeants Luis F. Deleon-Figueroa, 31, and Jose J. Gonzalez, 35, were killed in a firefight while on a joint operation with Afghan special operation soldiers in the northern province of Faryab.

This was Ard's third deployment to Afghanistan, a country long plagued by war and political turmoil. The latest chapter of violence in Afghan history began with the U.S.-led invasion after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The 18-year-long stalemate in the country has shown signs of progress intermittently as the Trump administration resumed peace talks with the Taliban, a militant Islamist group that controls territory containing about 11 percent of Afghanistan's population, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

President Donald Trump announced Thursday that his administration plans to keep 8,600 troops in Afghanistan, at least temporarily, following a prospective deal with the Taliban. It is unclear if the Taliban would agree to the U.S. proposal.

The proposed troop strength figure would see the withdrawal of roughly 5,400 U.S. forces from the region, prompting concerns among some congressional members who fear Afghanistan could turn into a staging ground for another September 11-style attack. Their concerns have grown as the Islamic State in Afghanistan, known as Islamic State Khorasan, has gained a foothold in the region.

The Taliban were responsible for a bomb blast in the city of Kunduz Saturday that killed at least 10 people, Reuters reported. The attack came after additional reports of fighting between militants and security forces in several parts of the northern Afghan city.

The country's tenuous political equilibrium is serving as a backdrop to a larger framework for peace being developed by Taliban representatives and a U.S. delegation in Doha, Qatar. A final agreement would formalize plans for a U.S. troop withdrawal and cease-fire between the Taliban and Afghan security forces. A second installment of the peace process is expected to be negotiated between the Taliban and Afghan officials directly.

"I think it's premature. I'm not using the 'withdraw' word right now," said U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff during a Pentagon press briefing on Wednesday. "I'm using—we're going to make sure that Afghanistan is not a sanctuary, and we're going to try to have an effort to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan."

As the war in Afghanistan continues to drag on with near-record skepticism from the U.S. public, the conflict's toll on U.S. servicemembers and their families is felt more keenly with the death of each additional soldier. In recent years, no other group in the U.S. military has experienced more combat losses than those working in the Special Forces community.

In a statement posted to Facebook on Friday, Bruce Ard, the father of the fallen Green Beret, reflected on the occasion of his son's death.

"My heart has a hole so big I can hardly stand it. He was the finest young man I have ever known," Bruce Ard wrote. "Not because he was my son but because [of] the person he is. A great son, brother, father, and husband. He loved his country and was the kind of person we should all be. Son, I Love you and know we will see each other again. I will miss you every day I live without you. Love Dad."

Ard was promoted to his current rank at the beginning of the month and was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart, according to the statement from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

"Sgt. 1st Class Ard's loss is felt across our 1st Special Forces Group Family," U.S. Army Colonel Owen G. Ray, commander of 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), said in a press release. "Our priority now is to take care of his family and our Soldiers and provide the best possible care that we can during this incredible time of need."

Ard leaves behind a young daughter and a pregnant wife.