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U.S. Soldier Killed, 2 Others Wounded In Southern Afghanistan

A 19-year-old U.S. soldier has been killed in an attack in southern Afghanistan as he was taking part in counter-terror operations.

Pfc. Hansen B. Kirkpatrick of Wasilla, Alaska, had been stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas.

Two other service members were wounded in Monday's attack in Helmand province, according to a statement from the United States Armed Forces-Afghanistan.

The group came under "indirect fire," according to the military, meaning an attack using rockets or mortars. A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul tells NPR's Tom Bowman that munitions hit a building while the group was inside it.

The injured service members' wounds are "not considered life-threatening," the military's statement said, and they are currently being hospitalized.

"At a time when we remember the patriots who founded our nation in freedom, we are saddened by the loss of one of our comrades who was here protecting our freedom at home," Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in a statement. "We will keep his family in our thoughts and prayers as we reflect on the sacrifice he and others have made to secure our freedoms and help make Afghanistan a better place."

Kirkpatrick is the eighth U.S. service member killed in Afghanistan this year, according to icasualties.org, a private website that tracks combat deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He is the first fatality since an "insider attack" by an Afghan soldier killed three U.S. service members in June. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that assault, The Two-Way reported. An Afghan source tells NPR that the Afghan soldier involved in the killings was investigated several times for suspected ties to the Taliban.

Kirkpatrick was killed in the Nawa district, Tom reports. He is the first U.S. fatality there since 2012, according to icasualties.org.

According to The Associated Press, "there has been a recent increase in U.S. military deaths and injuries in Afghanistan as the fighting season with the Taliban becomes more intense and American forces work more closely with their Afghan partners in the battle."

The United States is considering sending thousands of additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, after Nicholson requested the force be increased to break what he called a "stalemate" in the war. The conflict is now in its 16th year.

Most, if not all, of those new troops would be involved in training and not the counterterror mission. The training includes increasing the number of Afghan commandos and building up the Afghan Air Force.

Last month, President Trump gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to set U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. "We are not winning in Afghanistan right now, and we will correct this as soon as possible," Mattis told lawmakers last month.

In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year, Nicholson requested thousands more troops and billions more dollars. "Offensive capability is what will break the stalemate in Afghanistan," he said.

Mattis traveled to Afghanistan in April and said at the time that the Trump administration was reviewing its policy in the country. That strategy is expected to be presented later this month.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: July 5, 2017 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly said an insider attack in Afghanistan took place in May. The three soldiers were killed in June.
Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.