The US-based daily New York Times cited two Afghan officials as saying on Saturday that fatalities occurred as American Special Forces were assisting Afghan army soldiers in their bid to secure an area in the province that had been overrun by Taliban militants.
Earlier reports cited spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, Col. Sonny Leggett, as saying that “a combined US and Afghan forces conducting an operation” in the province came under “direct fire” but did not elaborate on the number of casualties in the battle.
“We are assessing the situation and will provide further updates as they become available,” Leggett said.
The report further noted that the total number of casualties remains unknown.
It is yet unclear which insurgent group was behind the assault on the joint US-Afghan operation, since earlier reports had pointed to Daesh (ISIL) militants as being behind the armed encounter.
The deadly incident came as the administration of US President Donald Trump has been engaged in peace negotiations with Taliban militants in efforts to end the 19-year-old American military occupation of Afghanistan.
In his State of the Union address this week, Trump mentioned the peace talks, saying that the US military shouldn’t act as “law enforcement” for other countries.
There are currently between 12,000 and 13,000 US military service members still in Afghanistan.
The development comes as a US government watchdog agency announced last week that violent attacks against US and Afghan troops have surged to record levels in the last quarter of 2019.
Violent attacks in Afghanistan surged to record levels in late 2019: US report A US government agency says attacks in Afghanistan surged to record levels in the last quarter of 2019.
“Enemy-initiated attacks” rose sharply last year, with the fourth quarter seeing a total of 8,204 attacks — up from 6,974 in the same period in 2018, said the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in a statement on January 31.
“A turbulent last six months resulted in increases in overall enemy attacks (6 percent) and effective attacks (4 percent) in 2019 compared to the already high levels reported in 2018,” SIGAR stated in its quarterly report to the US Congress.
Attacks dropped earlier in the year but picked up again after US President Donald Trump called off talks with the Taliban near Washington after an American officer was killed in Afghanistan.
The SIGAR report further claimed that Afghanistan’s security forces were struggling to take the fight to the Taliban and that they continued to rely on American military backing for more than half their ground operations.
It also highlighted an increase in the number of casualties among Afghan troops, who it said have sustained massive losses over the past five years.
The SIGAR report came two days after the US Air Force said American warplanes had dropped more bombs on Afghanistan in the past year than at any other time in at least a decade.
US dropped record number of bombs on Afghanistan in 2019Figures released by US central command show that US warplanes dropped a record number of bombs on Afghanistan in 2019.
According to the figures released by the US Central Command (CENTCOM), American warplanes dropped a total of 7,423 bombs and other munitions across Afghanistan, marking a whopping eight-fold increase from 2015.
Despite Washington’s claim that its air raids target militant positions, the data released by the UN indicated the US was responsible for at least half the 1,149 civilian deaths in Afghanistan over the first three-quarters of 2019.