- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Pentagon said on Tuesday that Afghanistan forces still can’t “operate entirely on their own” as it explained why U.S. special operations troops were involved in a firefight that killed one of them.

The in-combat death of an American in southern Helmand Province came despite President Obama’s declaration in December 2014 that U.S.’s combat mission was over.

“These people are in harm’s way,” said Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook at a briefing. “This is  the Afghans in the lead …. They’re getting better at defending their own country. But they’re not at a point yet where they are able to operate entirely on their own which is why U.S. forces ….are there.”

He also said that the days of the Taliban taking a winter break from combat are over.

“It’s a constant fighting season in Afghanistan now,” he said.

He said U.S. commandoes in their train, advise and assist role were fighting along side Afghan counter-terrorism forces in Marjah. He had no details on the exact mission.

Two medivac helicopters were dispatched. One took fire and turned back. The other was disabled by  rotor blades hitting a wall and remained on the scene.

The combat death of an unidentified service member, and injuries to two other Americans, comes as a Pentagon report last month said that overall security in the country is “fragile” and has “deteriorated” after 14 years of war.

“Although the ANDSF [Afghanistan National Defense and Security Force] maintain a significant capability advantage over the insurgency, insurgents are improving in their ability to find and exploit ANDSF vulnerabilities, making the security situation still fragile in key areas and at risk of deterioration in other places,” the report said.

The Taliban have retaken territory, and mounted brazen attacks across the country, such as on the airport in Kandahar in the south and on the city of Kunduz in the north. Terrorists have also successfully set off bombs in Kabul. Just before Christmas, they killed six U.S. Air Force personnel on a foot patrol outside Bagram air base, using suicide biker.

Mr. Cook said Defense Secretary Ashton Carter remains confident in the strategy of withdrawing troops while funding and training the Afghans.

“They’ve show resilience,” Mr. Cook said of the Afghans. “They’ve shown resilience in Helmand Province.”

There are now 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.


• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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