WASHINGTON – Two U.S. soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan during a raid Wednesday night may have been struck by friendly fire, the Pentagon said.
The Defense Department identified the soldiers as Army Rangers, Sgt. Joshua Rodgers, 22, and Sgt. Cameron Thomas, 23, both deployed from Fort Benning, Georgia. A third soldier was wounded in the operation, which targeted the emir of Islamic State militants in Afghanistan, Defense Department officials said.
The officials said the military was investigating whether the men had been killed by ground fire, either from U.S. forces or Afghan commandos who were taking part in the raid.
“We are investigating the circumstances of the combat deaths of the two Army Rangers in the beginning of what was an intense three-hour firefight,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Friday.
He said it was “possible” that the two Rangers were struck by friendly fire.
The soldiers were killed in action fighting the Islamic State in Nangarhar province. They were taking part in a lengthy raid, supported by airstrikes from U.S. warplanes, in Achin, a small district where a number of
Islamic State fighters have been engaging in a long-running battle with Afghanistan security forces.
Achin is the same district where the Pentagon deployed the U.S. military’s most powerful conventional bomb two weeks ago. That weapon, nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” targeted Islamic State fighters who were hiding in caves and a tunnel complex.
The Defense Department deemed the operation successful. But since then, fighting in the area has continued and the Afghanistan military, supported by the Defense Department, has yet to clear the area of remaining Islamic State fighters.
Davis said the target of Wednesday’s deadly raid was Abdul Hasib, whom Defense Department officials called the emir of the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Pentagon officials said they could not confirm that he was killed in the operation.
Some 50 Army Rangers joined 40 Afghan commandos in the raid. Defense Department officials said 35 Islamic State fighters were believed to have been killed.
Rodgers and Thomas “proved themselves willing to go into danger and impose a brutal cost on enemies in their path,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement. “Our nation owes them an irredeemable debt, and we give our deepest condolences to their families.”