Two U.S. troops die in Afghan blast
KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bombing attack on a NATO convoy in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday left two American service members dead, a Pentagon spokesman said.
The announcement of the assault, claimed by the Taliban, came despite repeated refusals by the U.S. military in Afghanistan to say whether there had been any fatalities.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis confirmed the casualties in the attack near Kandahar city. The Pentagon’s decision to release the figures seemed to contradict orders issued two months ago by Army Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, barring information about U.S. combat deaths until days after the incident.
There was no information on the number of troops wounded.
U.S. military officials in Afghanistan refused to give any information about casualties, even after the Pentagon released the casualty figures.
Nicholson’s orders stifling information from the U.S. military in Afghanistan was met with opposition from within the Pentagon, where officials reportedly tried to resolve the impasse. However, the decision by the Pentagon to release Wednesday’s casualty figures would indicate that the issue has gone unresolved two months after the order was issued.
Nicholson said the reason for the delay was to allow time for notification of family members. Yet it upends Pentagon practice since the Vietnam era and gives the public less information and transparency into a war that has raged for 16 years, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries.
The Taliban quickly took responsibility for Wednesday’s attack. A spokesman for the insurgents said the bombing killed 15 soldiers, but the Taliban routinely exaggerate their gains and casualty figures.
In their claim of responsibility, the Taliban also said the attack destroyed two armored tanks. The insurgents’ spokesman for southern Afghanistan, Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, said fighter Asadullah Kandahari was the “hero” who carried out the attack with a small pickup packed with explosives.
Kandahar province was the Taliban spiritual heartland and the headquarters of their leadership during the five-year rule of the Taliban, which ended with the U.S. invasion in 2001.
The service members were part of an international force referred to as the Train, Advise and Assist Command — South, a reference to their location in the country. Five other countries besides the United States are stationed in the south — Australia, Germany, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania, said U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan Lt. Damien Horvath.
Ghulam Ali, who runs a mechanics shop near the attack site on the outskirts of the city of Kandahar, said the intensity of the blast knocked him out.
When he came to, he said, he saw a military vehicle on fire on the road. He stepped out of his shop but a sudden burst of gunfire drove him back inside. Then, helicopters arrived and he saw soldiers being taken away from the scene but could not determine the extent of their injuries.
The combined U.S. and NATO troop contingent currently in Afghanistan is about 13,500. President Donald Trump’s administration is deciding whether to send about 4,000 or more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in an attempt to stem Taliban gains.
Late Wednesday, NBC News reported that Trump has become increasingly frustrated by the situation in Afghanistan and has recently floated a change in command.
Trump fumed during a meeting last month over the country’s lack of progress, NBC News reported. The network said he also proposed firing Nicholson.
National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said in a statement in response to the NBC story that “the president’s team continues to develop options for him that address threats and opportunities to America arising from this vital region.”
The attack in southern Kandahar came as thousands of demonstrators in the western city of Herat transported 31 bodies, the victims of a suicide attack on a Shiite mosque a day earlier, to the residence of the provincial governor.
Protesters were angered by the audacity of Tuesday evening’s attack barely 150 feet from a police station. The suicide bomber first sprayed gunfire at the private guards, who were protecting the mosque before running inside, firing until his rifle jammed, said witnesses. He then detonated the explosives strapped to his body.
The Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan took responsibility for the attack, saying they had deployed two suicide bombers. Witnesses reported a second explosion 10 minutes after the first bomber blew himself up.
When the carnage ended, 32 people were dead and 66 injured, provincial governor’s spokesman Jilani Farhad said.
The Islamic State said in a statement that the two men, whom it identified as Amir Qassim and Tayeb al-Kharasani, also used automatic rifles in the Shiite mosque before they detonated themselves.
Its statement claimed the attack killed nearly 50 and wounded more than 80.