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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Two American soldiers killed in Afghanistan

US military and Nato force withhold names of the dead and circumstances in which they were killed

An American flag flies from a post in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province during an operation against ISIS militants. AFP
An American flag flies from a post in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province during an operation against ISIS militants. AFP

Two American service members were killed during an operation in Afghanistan on Friday, the US and Nato forces said, providing no other details on the deaths.

The fatalities, which bring to four the number of US soldiers killed so far this year in Afghanistan, underscore the difficulties in bringing peace to the country even as Washington has stepped up efforts to find a way to end the 17-year war, America's longest.

The US and Nato Resolute Support mission said the names of the service members killed in action were being withheld until after notification of the next of kin. They did not say where the deaths occurred or who the soldiers were fighting.

"The incident is under investigation and we have no additional information to provide," said a Resolute Support spokeswoman said.

There are about 14,000 US forces in Afghanistan, supporting embattled Afghan forces as they struggle on two fronts — against a resurgent Taliban who now hold sway over almost half the country and also an affiliate of ISIS, which has sought to expand its footprint in Afghanistan even as its self-proclaimed "caliphate" has crumbled in Syria and Iraq.

The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington and ousted the ruling Taliban regime in a matter of weeks. But the Taliban subsequently regrouped while Washington shifted its attention to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and by 2009, the war had become a stalemate.

The Pentagon has recently been developing plans to withdraw up to half of the American forces still in the country while at the same time stepping up military efforts as the Trump administration negotiates with the Taliban.

US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the administration's main negotiator with the Taliban, held a 13-day marathon session with leaders of the insurgent group earlier this month.

Following the talks, held in Qatar where the Taliban has a political office, Mr Khalilzad said the two sides reached two draft agreements covering the withdrawal of US troops and guarantees that Afghanistan would not revert to a haven for terrorists.

But he was unable to persuade the Taliban to launch talks with the Afghan government. The Taliban have consistently refused to talk with the government in Kabul, describing it as a US puppet.

The two sides seem to be in agreement about the withdrawal of American forces, but divided over the timeline and whether a residual American force would remain.

Last year, 13 US service members were killed in Afghanistan.

Updated: March 22, 2019 12:00 PM

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