- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2017

Two Army Rangers killed in an Islamic State ambush in eastern Afghanistan’s violent Nangarhar province Thursday may have been the victims of friendly fire, according to the Defense Department.

Sgts. Joshua Rodgers and Cameron Thomas with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, were killed during a night raid against the suspected hideout of Abdul Hasib, the alleged emir of the terror group’s Afghan cell known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - Khorosan Province, or ISIS-K, in Nangarhar’s Achin district.

American commanders in country are “investigating the possibility that the two Rangers were accidentally killed by friendly fire during the more than three-hour fight,” a statement from U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said. Neither the Pentagon or command officials in Kabul provided any additional details on the friendly fire incident or ongoing inquiry.

“We have informed both of their families of this possibility and we have appointed a team to investigate the Soldiers’ deaths,” according to the statement, released Friday.

Along with the deaths of Sgts. Rodgers and Thomas, U.S. and Afghan forces killed roughly 35 ISIS-K fighters, according to a command assessment of the operation. American commanders are still working to verify whether Mr. Hasib is among the dead.

“If confirmed, the death of the Emir and his associates will significantly degrade ISIS-K operations in Afghanistan,” command officials say.

The embattled district is suspected of being ISIS-K’s main stronghold in eastern Afghanistan. Weeks earlier an ISIS-K tunnel complex in the district was target of a massive U.S. airstrike in which American forces dropped the “mother of all bombs,” a 22,000-pound munition which is one of the largest conventional weapons in the Pentagon’s arsenal, on ISIS-K targets.

It was the first time the weapon had been used in combat.

Despite the massive airstrike, which according to unofficial accounts ended with over 90 fighters and senior leaders dead, Achin continues to be a focal point of U.S. and Afghan operations in the country.

During Thursday’s raid, two Ranger platoons accompanying two Afghan special forces platoons launched an air assault near Mr. Hasib’s headquarters in Achin’s Mohmand Valley.

“Within a few minutes of landing, our combined force came under intense fire from multiple directions and well-prepared fighting positions,” command officials said.

During the ensuing firefight, U.S. forces called in airstrikes to take out enemy targets that were “close quarters from multiple compounds” surrounding the American and Afghan assault team.

Defense Secretary James Mattis offered his condolences to the families of the fallen Rangers.

“Fighting alongside their Afghan partners, Josh and Cameron proved themselves willing to go into danger and impose a brutal cost on enemies in their path,” the Pentagon chief said in a statement Friday.

“Our nation owes them an irredeemable debt, and we give our deepest condolences to their families,” he added.

Earlier this week during a surprise visit to Kabul, Mr. Mattis warned the upcoming fighting season in Afghanistan “is going to be another tough year for the valiant Afghan security forces and the international troops who have stood, and will continue to stand, shoulder to shoulder with Afghanistan against terrorism.”

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