The Pentagon has identified two Army Special Forces soldiers who were killed on Saturday in Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province.
The soldiers, assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, were Sgt. 1st Class Javier Jaguar Gutierrez, of San Antonio, Texas, and Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Rey Rodriguez, of Las Cruces, Nex Mexico. Both were 28 years old.
Gutierrez and Rodriguez, who were both posthumously promoted, were killed in an apparent "insider attack" carried out by an Afghan soldier who opened fire on a combined U.S.-Afghan special operations team that was meeting with district leaders in Nangarhar.
Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, told Task & Purpose in a statement that "current reports indicate an individual in an Afghan uniform opened fire on the combined U.S. and Afghan force with a machine gun."
Six other American soldiers were wounded in the attack. It was not yet clear how many casualties were suffered by the Afghan partner force. The incident is under investigation, a DoD statement said.
According to a press release from U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Gutierrez enlisted in the Army in 2009 as an infantryman and was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He graduated from special forces training in 2015, qualifying as a communications sergeant, before being assigned to his current unit. He had completed one previous deployment to Iraq with 2-504.
"Sgt. 1st Class Gutierrez' was a warrior that exemplified selfless service and a commitment to the mission, both values that we embody here in the 7th Special Forces Group," Col. John W. Sannes, 7th Special Forces Group Commander, said in a statement. "Our priority now is to take care of his family and teammates, we will provide the best possible care possible during these trying times."
Rodriguez first joined the Army in 2009. After basic training, he completed airborne and ranger assessment and selection before he was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. While with the regiment, he re-classified as a Spanish cryptologic linguist, and he deployed eight times with the 75th Ranger Regiment and twice with 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group.
"Sgt. 1st Class Rodriguez was selfless and served honorably; he was certainly among the best in our unit," Sannes said. "Here at the Red Empire, we take care of our own, and Sgt. 1st Class Rodriguez' family will forever be a part of us, we will assist them in any way we can to help them through these trying times."
With the latest casualties, the U.S. military has so far suffered six deaths of military personnel in Afghanistan in 2020, more than 17 years after American troops first entered the country in Oct. 2002.
As The New York Times reports, the Taliban and the Islamic State's Afghanistan branch "have had a foothold in Nangarhar Province."
Afghanistan's defense ministry issued a statement on Saturday confirming that the gunman who opened fire on U.S. and Afghan troops was wearing an Afghan uniform.
"A high level MoD delegation led by the Chief of the Army Staff Bismillah Waziri is investigating the incident together with the U.S. team in Nangarhar," the statement says.
Insider attacks within the Afghan security forces are nothing new. A recent report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction put into perspective just how common they are — in the last quarter of 2019, there were 33 insider attacks from the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, resulting in 90 casualties.
In 2019 as a whole, 82 insider attacks from ANDSF personnel left 172 dead, and 85 injured.
Jeff Schogol contributed reporting.