While U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Kabul on Tuesday in search of a peace deal, two American troops were killed in action in Afghanistan just a day later.
The Pentagon officially identified Master Sgt. Michael B. Riley, 32, 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne); and Sgt. James G. Johnston, 24, 79th Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), 71st Ordnance Group. The two soldiers were killed in the southern Uruzgan Province of Afghanistan.
Leaks to various press outlets further stated that the two soldiers were assigned to a U.S. Special Forces unit involved in a close-quarters firefight with the Taliban. Conversely, the Taliban claimed the two soldiers were killed in an ambush in the Sayedabad district of eastern Wardak Province, farther to the east. This was according to Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman. That area is located about 60 miles south of Kabul, located on the Kabul-Kandahar highway.
These two combat deaths raise the total of U.S. deaths in Afghanistan to nine in 2019. More than 2,400 Americans have died and over 20,000 wounded since the first U.S. troops entered Afghanistan just weeks after 9/11.
During Secretary of State Pompeo’s impromptu visit, he met with President Ashraf Ghani, as well as Gen. Scott Miller, the NATO commander for all allied forces under the U.S.-led coalition. This was Pompeo’s first visit to Kabul since the U.S. began peace talks with the Taliban in 2018.
Pompeo said the Trump Administration is still hopeful to have a peace agreement with the Taliban “before September 1.” The talks between the United States and the Taliban have taken place in Doha, Qatar and the two are scheduled to meet again later this week.
“We’ve made clear to the Taliban that we’re prepared to remove our forces. I want to be clear, we’ve not yet agreed on a timeline to do so,” Pompeo told reporters.
The talks between the two sides are focusing on counter-terrorism, the foreign troop presence, an Afghan-to-Afghan dialogue, and a permanent ceasefire.
The Taliban have refused to meet with any representatives with the Afghan government, stating that they are nothing more than puppets of the United States. The two sides were scheduled to meet informally earlier this year, but those talks were shelved after neither party could agree on who should attend.
The Taliban’s stance on the Afghan government is in contrast to the proposed U.S. peace deal, where the Afghan government and Taliban would share power.
Both sides are being proactive in the endless war by attempting to gain the upper hand in combat operations to increase leverage at the bargaining table. The U.S. Special Operations Command troops there are taking an active role in helping Afghan forces by conducting airstrikes and commando raids on Taliban forces.