The US’s First Combat Loss Of 2018 May Be A Sign Of More To Come

Analysis
US Army

The U.S. military Tuesday morning announced the death of a service member in a firefight that injured four more American troops in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province on Jan. 1 — the first U.S. combat fatality of 2018, and a stark reminder of the challenges facing U.S. troops in the year ahead.


Details are scant on the engagement that killed the service member, who remains unidentified pending notification of his family. A press release from U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said the attack occurred in Achin, a Pashtun district identified by some local observers as a “headquarters” for ISIS activity in the country.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our own,” Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said in the statement.

Saddened, but not surprised: As ISIS was routed out of its strongholds in Syria and Iraq last year, the crippled organization has shifted back to a franchising-and-insurgency strategy — one that’s made its ragtag Afghan offshoot, ISIS-Khorasan, a serious player in Nangarhar and a serious threat to the U.S. forces hunting its fighters there.

Renewed U.S. engagement in Nangarhar literally began with a bang in 2017. Last April, defense planners made global headlines with their first real-world strike using the “Mother of all Bombs” — the massive ordnance air blast, aka “the mother of all bombs” — one of the largest conventional munitions in the U.S. arsenal. The target: a network of ISIS fighter tunnels in Nangarhar’s Achin district.

Authorities claimed the MOAB killed nearly 100 enemy fighters, but for all the fanfare, it didn’t take ISIS out of the fight: Just two weeks later, two U.S. Army Rangers died in fighting with ISIS combatants near the blast site (reports conflicted on how they perished in the three-hour engagement).

Nor has ISIS been the only threat to U.S. troops in Achin. Last June, three American troops were killed in an apparent insider attack by an Afghan soldier; Taliban forces later took responsibility for that ambush. Of the 11 service members confirmed by the Pentagon as killed in action in Afghanistan last year, at least 7 — all Rangers, Green Berets, or Air Assault soldiers — gave their lives in Nangarhar.

What is the way forward? For now, much of the same. In Nangarhar — as in Syria, Iraq, Niger, and elsewhere — overwhelming U.S. firepower is targeting Islamist fighters; accumulated U.S. know-how is guiding local forces to stand up for themselves; and increasingly elite U.S. troops are putting themselves in danger to make it all work.

Maybe, eventually, it will work. But the payoff of America’s 17-year-old war posture remains unclear, even if the price is obvious — and unchanging.

The Trump administration is trying to assure Congress that it does not want to start a war with Iran, but some lawmakers who fought in Iraq are not so sure.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford both briefed Congress on Tuesday about Iran. Shanahan told reporters earlier on Tuesday that the U.S. military buildup in the region has stopped Iran and its proxies from attacking U.S. forces, but the crisis is not yet over.

"We've put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans," Shanahan said. "That doesn't mean that the threats that we've previously identified have gone away. Our prudent response, I think, has given the Iranians time to recalculate. I think our response was a measure of our will and our resolve that we will protect our people and our interests in the region."

Read More Show Less
U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur/Handout via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump warned on Monday Iran would be met with "great force" if it attacked U.S. interests in the Middle East, and government sources said Washington strongly suspects Shi'ite militias with ties to Tehran were behind a rocket attack in Baghdad's Green Zone.

"I think Iran would be making a very big mistake if they did anything," Trump told reporters as he left the White House on Monday evening for an event in Pennsylvania. "If they do something, it will be met with great force but we have no indication that they will."

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army photo)

After a year and a half since the Army took delivery on the first of its souped-up new version of the M1 Abrams main battle tank, the Pentagon's Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio is ramping up to deliver the service's first full brigade of upgraded warhorses to bring the pain downrange.

Read More Show Less

On Tuesday, two political veterans groups, one on the left, the other on the right, announced a new lobbying campaign aimed at ending America's 'forever wars.'

In a video tied to the announcement, Dan Caldwell, the senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative veterans' group, and Jon Soltz, the chairman of VoteVets, a liberal vets group which aims to get former service members into office, laid out their plan for a lobbying campaign aimed at changing policy on how the United States wages war.

Read More Show Less

The Army is working on developing an alternate fitness test for soldiers with permanent injuries that prevent them from completing the new Army Combat Fitness Test.

Read More Show Less