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Two US service members killed in Afghanistan, Resolute Support says

Two U.S. service members were killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, June 26, NATO’s Resolute Support mission said, the latest international casualties as the United States and the Taliban prepare for a new round of talks.

Resolute Support gave no further details, but the deaths came less than 24 hours after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Kabul and said he hopes for a peace deal with the Taliban “before September 1.”

“In accordance with U.S. Department of Defense policy, the names of the service members are being withheld until 24 hours after notification of next of kin is complete,” Resolute Support said in a statement.

Update, June 27: The U.S. Department of Defense on Thursday identified the service members as Army Master Sergeant Micheal B. Riley, 32, of Heilbronn, Germany and 24-year-old Sgt. James G. Johnston, of Trumansburg, New York.

The two men died on June 25 in Uruzgan Province as a result of wounds sustained from small arms fire while engaged in combat operations, the Pentagon said. The incident is under investigation.

Riley was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Carson, Colorado, and Johnston was assigned to 79th Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), 71st Ordnance Group, Fort Hood, Texas.

The Taliban had claimed in a statement they killed two American soldiers in an ambush in Sayed Abad district of southern Wardak province on Wednesday.

The blast brings to nine the number of U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan so far this year, compared to 12 killed in all of 2018.

Uruzgan province in central Afghanistan is where another U.S. Special Forces soldier, Sgt. Joshua Z. Beale, was killed earlier this year.

Beale died on January 22 as a result of injuries sustained from enemy small arms fire during combat operations in Tarin Kowt.

In his visit with President Ashraf Ghani, Pompeo said peace was Washington’s “highest priority.” Last September the U.S. began a fresh push to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table to end America’s longest war.

The next round of talks between the Taliban and the U.S. are set to begin on June 29 in Doha.

The talks have centred on four issues: counter-terrorism, the foreign troop presence, an intra-Afghan dialogue, and a permanent ceasefire.

The U.S. now has some 14,000 troops in Afghanistan – down from a peak of around 100,000 – most of them deployed to train and advise Afghan counterparts.

Nearly 2,300 American soldiers have died and more than 20,400 have been wounded in the country since a U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban in 2001.

Pro-government forces kill more Afghanistan civilians than insurgents, UN finds

With reporting from AFP

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