Special Forces Soldier Killed As Peace Talks Continue to End Afghan War

An American Special Forces soldier was killed in Afghanistan Thursday as violence continues throughout the region amid ongoing peace negotiations between U.S. and Taliban officials.

A statement released Friday by officials with the NATO Resolute Support mission did not disclose any details on how the Special Forces soldier was killed. The Defense Department and Newsweek are withholding the name of the U.S. service member until 24 hours after next of kin are notified.

Pentagon sources told Newsweek the soldier was killed in Zabul Province, located in the south of the country, bordering the province of Kandahar to the west.

Last week, Master Sgt. Luis F. Deleon-Figueroa, 31, and Master Sgt. Jose J. Gonzalez, 35, were killed during a firefight while on a joint operation with Afghan special operation soldiers in the northern province of Faryab.

The United States is currently engaged in a series of peace talks with representatives of the Taliban, which could result in a cease-fire agreement and lay a road map for a broader framework for stability. Further talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government would involve questions of power-sharing and the role of women in Afghan society, who are currently given constitutional protections.

A resolution to the 18-year imbroglio would be conditioned upon American troop withdrawal and some sort of role for the Taliban in Afghanistan's governance. The United States is looking for assurances that the Taliban will abide by an armistice and won't permit terrorist organizations to flourish in Afghanistan on its watch.

A U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter prepares for liftoff during offensive operations against the Taliban in Tarin Kot district, Uruzgan province, August 18, 2018. Sgt. Anthony Martinez/U.S. Army

The talks are currently being conducted out of Doha in Qatar, just a month ahead of national elections in Afghanistan. The upcoming elections are looming over the peace process as each side has sought to leverage the uncertainty about Afghanistan's representation for its strategic benefit.

Today's news brings the total number of U.S. service members killed this year in Afghanistan to 15, its highest level in five years. Cautious hopes for a quiet resolution to the peace process were further rattled when a bomb blast killed 63 at a wedding in Kabul earlier this month. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.

For his part, President Donald Trump upset the delicate negotiations being conducted by his administration in comments he made last week inside the Oval Office.

"As I've said, and I'll say it any number of times — and this is not using nuclear — we could win that war in a week if we wanted to fight it, but I'm not looking to kill 10 million people," he told reporters. "I'm not looking to kill 10 million Afghans, because that's what would have to happen, and I'm not looking to do that."

After Trump made similar comments last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's office immediately asked for "clarification" through diplomatic channels.

Rahmatullah Nabil, one of Afghanistan's presidential candidates, suggested on Twitter that the country's leaders "should drop their selfishness & announce that we will make peace among ourselves," bucking U.S. leadership.

During a Pentagon press briefing on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters the U.S. military retains the right to use nuclear weapons against the Taliban.

"We reserve the right to keep all options on the table," said Esper. "But, look, clearly we have a plan going forward. The key to resolve this conflict is a political agreement. We're on that path right now. We're hopeful that we can reach some type of conclusion that would result in a political agreement that can get us on the right trajectory."

On Thursday, Trump announced 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 accede to such an arrangement or how Trump's impromptu proposal would affect the peace talks in Doha.

Trump also said that Afghanistan will continue to host a "high intelligence" presence from the U.S. moving forward. There are currently 14,000 U.S. military personnel in the country.

More than 2,400 U.S. service personnel have died in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion began in 2001.