Today, during morning military operations in the Helmand (or Hillmand) province, an unidentified U.S. special operations member was killed and a second U.S. soldier wounded in a firefight against the Taliban. A rescue/medevac helicopter arrived on scene to extract the soldiers to a secure area. While on the ground, the rescue helicopter came under mortar fire. An unconfirmed second serviceman was either killed or wounded during this engagement and may have been inside the helo at the time injuries were sustained. The chopper was able to take off, but could not maintain flight and landed in the city of Marjah. There are some conflicting reports as to whether the medevac landed due to damage from the mortar attack or from other mechanical issues.
The Helmand province is an oddly shaped region in southern Afghanistan. It is the largest province (by area) in Afghanistan and is considered strategically important given its fertile soil—where vast amounts of poppy are grown and used as a cash source for the Taliban—and its two roadways that run east to west, serving as an important supply route. When British and other coalition forces withdrew from the area in 2013, there was a rush to reacquire control of the region and cultivate the poppy seed crop. The area has been the focus of a Taliban resurgence and will likely be of interest to ISIS in the future.
Afghan National Security Forces, with the support of U.S. Special Forces and other special operations personnel, have been engaging the Taliban, who have gained control of at least 34 districts since the middle of 2015. SOFREP defines control as administering civil and military authority. The Taliban is currently engaged in or contesting another 36 districts. This term “contesting” is more difficult to define, yet it is reasonable to state that the terrorist organization has a substantial footprint in the area and in the surrounding vicinity. The Helmand and Kandahar provinces represented some of the fiercest fighting of the Global War on Terrorism campaign, with our British allies carrying a heavy burden in the cities of Musa Qala and Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand.
As of 1100 EST, the battle in which these men were wounded or killed was still underway. We will update the story accordingly. Meanwhile, you can count on our special operations forces to acquit themselves with honor and professionalism.