Two U.S. Servicemembers Killed, Others Wounded by IED in Afghanistan

Two American service members are dead and two others were wounded after an improvised explosive device detonated on Saturday in southern Afghanistan

These are the first U.S. troops to die in America's longest-running war since the start of the new decade and come as tensions between Washington and Tehran remain high. The Taliban have said the contention between the two powers would not hinder peace negotiations with American officials aimed at ending the war.

A statement from Resolute Support officials announcing the deaths did not identify the service members or provide further details, which the Pentagon does not disclose until families are notified, per long-standing Defense Department policy. But American military officials told Newsweek that the U.S. soldiers struck an improvised explosive device in the stretch of topography known as the ground defense area of Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.

The statement said the strike occurred during an operation that was a part of NATO's Resolute Support mission.

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A Taliban spokesperson on Twitter said all American occupants in the vehicle had been killed, but the militant group often exaggerates or fabricates enemy casualties in their battlefield claims.

More American service members died fighting the Taliban and other insurgent groups in 2019 than in any other year since 2014, when the United States marked the end of combat operations in Afghanistan. U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Michael James Goble, 33, a Special Forces soldier, brought last year's death toll to twenty. Thirteen were killed in 2018, and 11 in 2017.

Goble's death came just two days before Christmas and follows the release of The Washington Post's Afghanistan papers, a multipart series underscoring the gross mismanagement of a war that has cost billions of dollars and left tens of thousands of both American and Afghan families permanently shattered. More than 2,400 U.S. service members have died in Afghanistan since 2001, according to the website icasualties.org.

us, troops, afghanistan, helmand, province
U.S. Marines with 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment, conduct a mounted patrol in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle during a security patrol in Nad Ali, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, October 7, 2014. The war in Afghanistan is the longest-running war in U.S. history. Sergeant Dustin D. March/Regional Command Southwest/U.S. Marine Corps

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The latest attack in Afghanistan came days after a dramatic escalation of a longstanding feud between the United States and another longtime adversary, Iran, in the Middle East. In Iraq, military installations housing U.S. and allied personnel came under Iranian missile fire Tuesday in response to the Trump administration's decision last week to assassinate Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani.

Iranian officials have said the salvo concluded their revenge, but a number of regional proxies, mostly Shiite Muslim militias supportive of Tehran, continue to pose a threat to U.S. forces in the region. Soleimani's successor, Esmail Qaani, vowed further retribution while standing in front of the flags of various armed movements hailing from Lebanon to Iraq to Afghanistan.

The Taliban's banner was not present, though the U.S. has long charged Iran with backing the Sunni Muslim militants, once a common enemy of both the Pentagon and Soleimani himself. Today, Iran sees itself as a key arbiter in a potential Afghan peace process and views the U.S. as a destabilizing foreign power in the region.

Iran and the Taliban both deny any direct links to one another. Other than seeking the expulsion of U.S. forces, the two have vastly different ideological and strategic goals.

The U.S. in the 1980s backed mujahideen insurgents against a Soviet-backed government, but later intervened directly in the Afghan conflict in the wake 9/11 attacks in 2001, an operation of near-unprecedented lethality claimed by the Taliban's ally, Al-Qaeda. A U.S.-led coalition quickly defeated the Taliban's government but has since faced a deadly insurgency still making gains today in the war-torn nation.

The Trump administration has initiated a peace process with the Taliban, but negotiations have repeatedly stalled, amid continued violence between insurgents and the U.S.-backed Kabul government, which the militants refuse to engage with direclty. But even as Washington seeks to draw back from its longest-ever war, the deployment of U.S. troops in an entirely separate conflict in Iraq has increasingly been questioned.

The U.S. military presence in Iraq dates back to a 2003 invasion that overthrew longtime leader Saddam Hussein but stirred a Sunni Muslim insurgency and opened the door for Shiite Muslim militias, many of which received Iranian support. The Pentagon withdrew in 2011 but returned three years later when a new, formidable force known as the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) made lightning gains throughout Iraq and neighboring Syria.

Here too, the U.S. and Iran brielfy found themselves fighting the same fight, but the defeat of ISIS's territorial khalifate and the Trump administration's withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic saw a resurgence in the Washington-Tehran rivalry that has since sparked new, widespread regional unrest with vast and uncertain frontlines.

Baghdad has called on U.S. and other foreign troops to leave, but Kabul continues to seek the protection of the NATO alliance, largely led by the Pentagon. On a separate peace track, regional powers including Iran, Russia, China, India, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan gathered as recently as last month in hopes of pooling their own efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

Though U.S.-Iran tensions have dominated headlines in recent weeks and set many nations potentially caught in the middle on edge, Taliban delegation leader Suhail Shaheen told Voice of America on Thursday that the international spat would not hurt the group's prospects for a peace deal.

"The developments will not have negative impact on the peace process because the (U.S.-Taliban) peace agreement is finalized and only remains to be signed (by the two sides)," Shaheen said.

Two U.S. Servicemembers Killed, Others Wounded by IED in Afghanistan | World