Mark Esper wasn't asked a single question about Afghanistan, where 12 US troops have died this year

news
The Taliban drove his family out of Afghanistan when he was a ...

Showing just how far removed the war is from life at home, none of the Senators who questioned Army Secretary Mark Esper during his nearly three-hour confirmation hearing to become defense secretary asked about Afghanistan.

While Afghanistan was mentioned twice in passing, Esper did not face direct questions about the U.S. government's strategy of fighting the Taliban while simultaneously negotiating a peace settlement with them.

A total of 12 service members and at least two U.S. contractors have been killed in Afghanistan so far in 2019.


Currently, about 14,000 U.S. troops are serving in Afghanistan, of which roughly 9,000 are part of the international effort to assist Afghan troops and police and the remaining 5,000 or focused on the counter-terrorism mission.

While the topic of Afghanistan did not come up on Tuesday, prior to the hearing Esper submitted written answers to questions about Afghanistan posed by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In his answers, Esper confirmed that, "Withdrawal of foreign forces is one component of negotiations with the Taliban."

Esper also praised Afghan security forces for bearing the brunt of the fighting against the Taliban, adding that recruiting and retention has finally outpaced attrition.

With that said, the death toll for Afghan security forces has been staggering. In November, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that nearly 29,000 Afghan troops and police had been killed since 2015.

Most recently, Afghan Col. Mobin Mohabati, commander of an Afghan army brigade that recently retook a district in Ghazni Province, was killed Wednesday in an apparent insider attack, New York Times Jawad Sukhanyar tweeted. No U.S. troops were killed or wounded in the attack, Task & Purpose confirmed.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, 25 Afghan commandos were reportedly killed in Badghis Province.

The Pentagon no longer publicizes casualty figures for Afghan security forces, per the Afghan government's request. The U.S. military command in Afghanistan has also stopped tracking how much territory the Afghan government actually controls.

U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is insisting the Taliban prevent Afghanistan from being used as a staging area for terrorist attacks against the United States as part of any peace deal, even though the Taliban have refused to break with Al Qaeda for more than 20 years.

When asked by lawmakers if he believes the Taliban is willing and able to fight Al Qaeda and ISIS, Esper did not answer directly in his written response.

"If confirmed, I will support DoD's efforts to consider carefully the terrorist threats that remain in Afghanistan and the resources and capabilities needed to defeat them," Esper wrote. "In the event of a peace deal, we would have to evaluate the Taliban's ability to work with the Afghan security forces to combat terrorist threats, such as ISIS-K and al Qaeda."

Here are the reported U.S. deaths in Afghanistan so far in 2019:

COMBAT DEATHS

NON-COMBAT DEATHS

DEFENSE CONTRACTORS

SEE ALSO:Afghanistan in 2019: This is what losing looks like

WATCH NEXT: The Afghanistan War: A Timeline

U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Brian Kimball

Editor's Note: This article by Oriana Pawlyk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Calling aviation geeks in New York City: The British are coming.

In their first visit to the United States since 2008, the Royal Air Force "Red Arrows" will perform an aerial demonstration next week over the Hudson River, according to an Air Force news release. F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels demonstration teams will also be part of the show.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Air National Guard/Staff Sgt. Michelle Y. Alvarez-Rea

Frances and Efrain Santiago, natives of Puerto Rico, wanted to show their support last month for protesters back home seeking to oust the island's governor.

The couple flew the flag of Puerto Rico on the garage of their Kissimmee home. It ticked off the homeowners association.

Someone from the Rolling Hills Estates Homeowners Association left a letter at their home, citing a "flag violation" and warning: "Please rectify the listed violation or you may incur a fine."

Frances Santiago, 38, an Army veteran, demanded to know why.

Read More Show Less
Todd Rosenberg/AP

A West Point graduate received a waiver from the U.S. Army to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday, and play in the NFL while serving as an active-duty soldier.

The waiver for 2nd Lt. Brett Toth was first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter, who said that Toth signed a three-year deal with the Eagles. Toth graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 2018.

Read More Show Less
Indiana National Guard

The Indiana National Guard soldier who was killed on Thursday in a training accident at Fort Hood has been identified as 29-year-old Staff Sgt. Andrew Michael St. John, of Greenwood, Indiana.

Read More Show Less

QUETTA, Pakistan/KABUL (Reuters) - The brother of the leader of the Afghan Taliban was among at least four people killed in a bomb blast at a mosque in Pakistan on Friday, two Taliban sources told Reuters, an attack that could affect efforts to end the Afghan war.

Read More Show Less