3 U.S. Soldiers Killed by Explosion in Afghanistan

By Nesar Azadzoi and Rod Nordland

GHAZNI, Afghanistan — Three American soldiers were killed on Tuesday in a bombing in Afghanistan, the United States military said, in the worst loss of life in the country for the United States this year. Three other soldiers and an American contractor were wounded.

The deaths took place near Ghazni City, in the southeastern province of the same name, from the detonation of a roadside bomb, the military said in a statement. A witness said the bomb went off as an American convoy passed on the highway.

“The convoy set off a roadside mine, and there was smoke all over the place. It nearly took our lives, too,” said the witness, Haji Abdulamin, a local resident. “The road was blocked, and a few minutes later helicopters landed and took the dead.”

A taxi driver named Hamed who was on the highway said he saw an American vehicle that had been destroyed by the bomb. “The situation was not good, and the helicopters were bombing the area,” he said. “I think six or seven Taliban were killed too.”

The Taliban issued a statement claiming responsibility for the late morning attack.

The events came only three days after another American soldier was killed in the southwestern province of Nimroz during a fight with militants linked to Al Qaeda, the military said in a statement. The military also said that the soldier, Sgt. Leandro A.S. Jasso, a 25-year-old Army Ranger from Washington State, was shot accidentally by a soldier from an Afghan “partner force.” It added, “There were no indications he was shot intentionally.”

The three soldiers killed on Tuesday were not identified, in line with American policy to wait until 24 hours after the next of kin are notified, but they were believed to be part of a Special Forces unit fighting the Taliban in Ghazni Province. The military said the four Americans who were wounded in the explosion were evacuated for medical treatment.

It was the worst attack on American troops in Afghanistan this year. It brings to 13 the number of service members who have been killed in 2018, many of them in insider attacks blamed on infiltrators or turncoats among allied Afghan military forces. In August, a suicide bomber killed three Czech soldiers as they patrolled near the Bagram military base.

A Czech soldier was also killed in an attack by an Afghan soldier in the western province of Herat last month, and a military investigation is underway into whether his killer was beaten or tortured to death while in military custody. The American Green Beret unit at the scene has been sent back to the United States, officials said.

Ghazni officials said there had been heavy fighting throughout the province in recent days. Commandos backed by American Special Forces and air power killed dozens of Taliban fighters, said Mohammad Arif Noori, the spokesman for the province’s governor. At the same time, however, separate Taliban attacks on Afghan National Army bases have killed at least seven security force members in the past two days, Mr. Noori said.

Ghazni city was the scene of a determined attack by the Taliban in August, and the insurgents also control or threaten much of the rest of the province.

While American and coalition casualties in Afghanistan have dropped sharply over the past several years, Afghan security force casualties have risen dramatically. Figures released by President Ashraf Ghani show that about 25 Afghan soldiers or police officers are killed every day.

The American military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin Scott Miller, expressed condolences to Sergeant Jasso’s family. “Sergeant Jasso was killed defending our nation, fighting Al Qaeda alongside our Afghan partners,” General Miller said.

According to the military’s statement on Sergeant Jasso’s death, he was killed “when the partnered force became engaged in a close-quarter battle during an assault on one of multiple barricaded Al Qaeda shooters.”

It was the first time in recent years that the presence of Al Qaeda was reported in that part of the country. Even officials from Nimroz Province seemed unaware of it. Gen. Abdul Raqib Mubariz, the province police chief, described the insurgents in the fight with the Americans as Taliban, and added that 22 militants were killed.

“It is not confirmed yet if they had any affiliation with Al Qaeda,” he said.

Taliban insurgents have maintained that they are no longer allied with remnants of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda’s numbers were believed to be very low, at least until recently, although insurgents from the separate Islamic State group have grown in numbers lately.

Taliban insurgents have continued to infiltrate the city of Ghazni, even after they were repelled by American troops sent to help the Afghan military there. On Nov. 21, the insurgents reportedly fired a rocket into the city while General Miller was visiting the Ghazni governor’s office, but officials said it did not land anywhere near him.

Last month, while visiting Gen. Abdul Raziq, the powerful police commander of Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan, General Miller narrowly escaped assassination when one of the commander’s bodyguards opened fire of the group of officials. General Raziq was killed.

Nesar Azadzoi reported from Ghazni, and Rod Nordland from Kabul, Afghanistan. Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Washington.

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