Two American service members killed in Taliban-claimed attack

A roadside bomb attack in Kandahar province has left two American service members dead and two wounded, the U.S. military command in Kabul said in a statement Saturday. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack through a post on Twitter.

The attack comes as formal peace talks between U.S. and Taliban negotiators are stalled, with U.S. negotiators demanding a reduction in violence before a deal can be signed. In December, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced a “brief pause” in negotiations after the Taliban launched a complex attack on the highly fortified Bagram air base. Since then formal talks have been on hold, but some negotiations have occurred on the sidelines.

Ataullah Ata, a member of the Kandahar provincial council, said the attack occurred in the Dand district and destroyed the American vehicle.

Ata said U.S. forces based at Kandahar air base regularly patrol nearby villages, including in the Dand district. He said the scene of Saturday’s attack had been cordoned off by American forces, and no more details were available.

Kandahar has experienced an overall drop in violence in recent years, according to Baher Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor, but Ata said sporadic clashes occur with the Taliban in six of the province’s 17 districts. Overall in Afghanistan, violence has increased in recent months as both sides attempt to leverage battlefield gains at the negotiating table.

On Wednesday, U.S. forces carried out an airstrike in Herat targeting a commander of a Taliban splinter faction that resulted in civilian casualties, according to local media reports. A spokesman for the American military command in Kabul confirmed a U.S. airstrike was conducted in that area on that day and described it as “a coordinated defensive airstrike in support of Afghan forces.” The spokesman did not provide further details.

A peace agreement with the Taliban would pave the way for the withdrawal of thousands of American troops from Afghanistan, a key campaign promise President Trump wants to keep. But the president and his commanders do not want it to appear as though they were being pushed out of Afghanistan by the Taliban or any other foe after 18 years of war.

A draft peace agreement reached in September included a pledge from the Taliban not to harbor terrorist groups, in exchange for the U.S. troop withdrawal. However, Trump scuttled that deal after an American service member was killed in a Taliban attack in Kabul.

On Dec. 22, a U.S. Special Forces soldier was killed in Kunduz province, also by a roadside bomb. The death brought the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan in 2019 to 20, more than in any other year since 2014.