The Taliban killed one American soldier and wounded two more as they fought alongside Afghan forces in the beleaguered southern Afghan town of Marjah in Helmand province earlier today.
A “US service member died as a result of wounds sustained during operations near Marjah” and two more were wounded, US Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) confirmed in a press release. The identity and branch of the soldier who was killed was not disclosed, however a US military official based in Afghanistan told The Long War Journal that a US special operations unit was conducting operations in Marjah with Afghan counterparts.
“This is an ongoing situation [and] there is still a fight going on in the immediate surroundings,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a briefing today with reporters.
Cook also said that two HH-60 Pavehawk helicopters, which are used by US Air Force search and rescue teams, attempted to extract the ground force as it came under fire. One of the helicopters was disabled and left at the scene. The Taliban claimed it shot down the Pavehawk.
The Taliban has laid siege to the town of Marjah for more than a month. The district of Nad Ali, which includes Marjah, is almost completely under Taliban control.
Marjah, which was once described by General Stanley McCrystal as a “bleeding ulcer” in 2010 as US Marines fought to clear the Taliban from its stronghold, was one of the first towns in Helmand cleared of the Taliban during the US “surge.” McCrystal said that clearing the Taliban from Marjah and surrounding districts in Helmand and Kandahar would bring an “irreversible sense of momentum” and lead to the Taliban’s defeat.
Instead, security in Helmand has spiraled out of control as the Taliban has pressed its offensive to regain the ground lost there between 2009-2011. Of Helmand’s 13 districts, five are known to be controlled by the Taliban (Nowzad, Musa Qala, Baghran, Dishu, and Sangin), and another five are heavily contested (Nahr-i-Sarraj, Kajaki, Nad Ali, Garmsir and Khanashin). Of the remaining three districts, The Long War Journal believes two (Washir and Nawa-i-Barak) are contested, but the situation is unclear. Only Lashkar Gah, the district that hosts the provincial capital, has not seen significant Taliban activity. [See LWJ report, Taliban controls or contests nearly all of southern Afghan province.]
US and British special operations forces have been deployed to Helmand since the summer of 2015 to support the struggling Afghan forces. However, the reintroduction of US and British forces in Helmand has not prevented the districts of Nowzad, Musa Qala, and Sangin from falling to the Taliban.
Outside of Helmand, the Taliban has significantly expanded its influence in the past year. The Taliban now controls 40 districts in Afghanistan and contests another 39, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. These numbers may be low given the methodology used to assess control in contested districts.