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Mark Esper wasn't asked a single question about Afghanistan, where 12 US troops have died this year
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:
- Army Ranger Sgt. Cameron A. Meddock, Jan. 17
- Special Forces Staff Sgt. Joshua Z. Beale, Jan. 22
- Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class Will D. Lindsay, March 22
- Spc. Joseph P. Collette, March 22
- Marine Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, April 8
- Marine Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, April 8
- Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, April 8
- Special Forces Master Sgt. Micheal B. Riley, June 25
- Army Sgt. James G. Johnston, June 25
- Special Forces Sgt. Maj. James G. Sartor, July 13
WATCH NEXT: The Afghanistan War: A Timeline
Retired Army Master Sgt. Mark Allen has died 10 years after he was shot in the head while searching for deserter Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan.
Allen died on Saturday at the age of 46, according to funeral information posted online.
For U.S. service members who have fought alongside the Kurds, President Donald Trump's decision to approve repositioning U.S. forces in Syria ahead of Turkey's invasion is a naked betrayal of valued allies.
"I am ashamed for the first time in my career," one unnamed special operator told Fox News Jennifer Griffin.
In a Twitter thread that went viral, Griffin wrote the soldier told her the Kurds were continuing to support the United States by guarding tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners even though Turkey had nullified an arrangement under which U.S. and Turkish troops were conducting joint patrols in northeastern Syria to allow the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, to withdraw.
"The Kurds are sticking by us," the soldier told Griffin. "No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us."
Most of the U.S. troops in Syria are being moved out of the country as Turkish forces and their Arab allies push further into Kurdish territory than originally expected, Task & Purpose has learned.
Roughly 1,000 U.S. troops are withdrawing from Syria, leaving a residual force of between 100 and 150 service members at the Al Tanf garrison, a U.S. official said.
"I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday's edition of CBS News' "Face the Nation."'
More than 700 women and children affiliated with ISIS escape Kurdish prison camp after Turkish shelling
BEIRUT/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Women affiliated with Islamic State and their children fled en masse from a camp where they were being held in northern Syria on Sunday after shelling by Turkish forces in a five-day-old offensive, the region's Kurdish-led administration said.
Turkey's cross-border attack in northern Syria against Kurdish forces widened to target the town of Suluk which was hit by Ankara's Syrian rebel allies. There were conflicting accounts on the outcome of the fighting.
Turkey is facing threats of possible sanctions from the United States unless it calls off the incursion. Two of its NATO allies, Germany and France, have said they are halting weapons exports to Turkey. The Arab League has denounced the operation.
Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is warning that it's "absolutely a given" that ISIS will come back if the U.S. doesn't keep up pressure on the group, just one week after President Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from northern Syria.
"It's in a situation of disarray right now. Obviously the Kurds are adapting to the Turkish attacks, and we'll have to see if they're able to maintain the fight against ISIS," Mattis said in an interview on NBC's "Meet The Press," set to air on Sunday. "It's going to have an impact. The question is how much?"