KABUL, Afghanistan—A U.S. service member was killed in combat in Afghanistan on Dec. 23, the U.S. military said, without providing further details, while the Taliban claimed they were behind a roadside bombing in northern Kunduz province that killed the U.S. soldier.
The latest fatality brings the number of U.S. deaths in Afghanistan this year to 20. There have also been three non-combat deaths in 2019. More than 2,400 Americans have died in the nearly 18-year conflict.
The Taliban now control or hold sway over practically half of Afghanistan but continue to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, as well as government officials—even as they hold peace talks with a U.S. envoy tasked with negotiating an end to what has become the United States’ longest war. Scores of Afghan civilians have been killed in the crossfire or by roadside bombs planted by terrorists.
The U.S. military statement on Dec. 23 didn’t identify the U.S. soldier or say where in Afghanistan the service member was killed. It stated that in accordance with U.S. Department of Defense policy, names of service member killed in action are being withheld for 24 hours, until the notification of the family is completed.
In November, two U.S. service members were killed in Afghanistan when their helicopter crashed in eastern Logar province. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the crash, saying they had downed the helicopter, causing many fatalities. The U.S. military dismissed the Taliban claim as false.
Shortly after the U.S. military statement on Dec. 23, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on Twitter that the U.S. soldier was killed in the Chardara district in northern Kunduz province where U.S. and Afghan forces were carrying out a joint raid. Mujahid said the terrorists had planted roadside bomb that killed the service member. He even posted a purported photo ID of the slain U.S. soldier, without saying how it was obtained.
The U.S. military wouldn’t immediately comment on the tweet or the Taliban claim.
The Taliban have a strong presence in Kunduz province and are completely in control of several of the province’s districts. The provincial capital, the city of Kunduz, briefly fell to the Taliban in 2015, before the insurgents withdrew in the face of a NATO-backed Afghan offensive. The city is a strategic crossroads with easy access to much of northern Afghanistan as well as the country’s capital, Kabul, about 200 miles (335 kilometers) away.
The following year, 2016, the Taliban pushed back into the city center, briefly raising their flag before gradually being driven out again. In August, they launched another attempt to overrun the city but were repelled.
Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been trying to hammer out a peace agreement with the Taliban for more than a year. The United States wants the deal to include a promise from the Taliban that Afghanistan wouldn’t used as a base by any terrorist group.
Earlier this month, Khalilzad met with Taliban representatives in Qatar, where the insurgents maintain a political office. The Qatar meeting focused on getting a Taliban promise to reduce violence, with a permanent cease-fire as the eventual goal.
Khalilzad is trying to lay the groundwork for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the protracted conflict but the Taliban refuse to talk directly with the Kabul government.
Meanwhile, a bomb went off on Dec. 23 at the funeral of a village elder in eastern Laghman province, killing at least three civilians and wounding seven, according to Asadullah Dawlatzai, the provincial governor’s spokesman. He said the explosion took place in the district of Dawlat Shah.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the spokesman blamed the Taliban.