At least 10 die in shootout be­tween U.S., Afghan sol­diers

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - NATION | WORLD - By Mu­jib Mashal

KABUL, Afghanista­n — A shootout be­tween Afghan and U.S. sol­diers dur­ing joint op­er­a­tions in east­ern Afghanista­n on Satur­day re­sulted in fa­tal­i­ties on both sides, Afghan and U.S. of­fi­cials said.

De­tails of the in­ci­dent, in Nan­garhar prov­ince where U.S. Spe­cial Forces were help­ing Afghan com­man­dos and the Afghan army clear an area threat­ened by the Tal­iban, were scarce.

It was not clear whether the fire­fight was the work of Tal­iban in­fil­tra­tors, a ma­jor con­cern in the past, or the re­sult of an ar­gu­ment be­tween al­lied forces that turned deadly.

Two Afghan of­fi­cials said five or six U.S. sol­diers and six Afghan sol­diers were killed.

A U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said there were at least six Amer­i­can ca­su­al­ties and con­firmed that they in­cluded fa­tal­i­ties but did not say how many.

Lo­cal res­i­dents re­ported mil­i­tary he­li­copters fly­ing over the area.

The U.S. mil­i­tary com­mand in Afghanista­n con­firmed that a joint U.S. and

Afghan force had come un­der “di­rect fire” in Nan­garhar with­out pro­vid­ing de­tails.

“We are as­sess­ing the sit­u­a­tion and will pro­vide fur­ther up­dates as they be­come avail­able,” said Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for the U.S. forces in Afghanista­n.

The Tal­iban and the Is­lamic State branch in Afghanista­n have had a foothold in Nan­garhar prov­ince.

In Sherzad dis­trict, where the shootout took place, the joint op­er­a­tion had pushed the Tal­iban from around the main high­way and was con­tin­u­ing to clear vil­lages.

In­sider at­tacks by Afghan forces on Amer­i­cans, known as “green on blue,” were so fre­quent dur­ing one stage of the war that U.S. com­man­ders feared the re­sult­ing mis­trust could de­rail their mis­sion.

In re­cent years, the num­ber of such at­tacks has de­clined as the Amer­i­can pres­ence has de­clined and the U.S. has taken more of a sup­port­ing role with Afghan forces lead­ing the fight. None­the­less, Gen. Austin S. Miller, the top Amer­i­can and NATO com­man­der in the coun­try, barely sur­vived a shoot­ing by a Tal­iban in­fil­tra­tor in an Afghan mil­i­tary uni­form last year. A top Afghan gen­eral walk­ing next to him was killed.

The shoot­ing comes in a del­i­cate time in the war, as U.S. ne­go­tia­tors have been locked in weeks of talks with the Tal­iban to fi­nal­ize a peace deal. If a Tal­iban hand is seen in the shoot­ing, it is sure to com­pli­cate those talks, which of­fi­cials and diplo­mats sug­gested Satur­day had reached a promis­ing stage.

Last Septem­ber, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump called off talks with the Tal­iban, cit­ing a car-bomb­ing in Kabul that had killed an Amer­i­can sol­dier as well nearly a dozen Afghans.

It took months of trust build­ing, in­clud­ing a pris­oner swap, to get the two sides to re­turn to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble in the hopes of fi­nal­iz­ing a deal that could end Amer­ica’s long­est war.

If the at­tack on U.S. forces came from Afghan troops, that could jeop­ar­dize the al­ready strained diplo­macy be­tween Washington and Kabul.

Trump has long wanted to end the U.S. mil­i­tary role in the 19-year war in Afghanista­n, in­clud­ing with­draw­ing forces faster than some of his com­man­ders rec­om­mend. The at­tack Satur­day could pro­vide a new rea­son for him to do so.

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