WASHINGTON — An American soldier died during a combat operation on Thursday in Afghanistan, the Defense Department said, the third in just over a week.
The soldier, a member of the Army Special Forces, died in Zabul Province, in the country’s southeast, after disembarking a helicopter at the start of a joint mission with Afghan commandos, one department official said. The exact circumstances of his death remained unclear.
A statement from the Defense Department announcing the death did not provide any details of the episode.
The soldier’s death comes as Taliban officials and State Department negotiators navigate the diplomatic details needed to finalize a plan for peace, one that is expected to include the withdrawal of American troops from the country.
Even so, in an interview on Thursday on Fox News Radio, President Trump said that “you have to keep a presence” in the country, but that he expected the troop level in Afghanistan would most likely be reduced to about 8,600 from roughly 14,000 before deciding on ultimate troop levels.
The soldier’s death brings the number of American troops killed in combat so far this year to 15, the highest number of losses in a year since 2014, when the Pentagon announced the end of combat operations in Afghanistan. Thirteen troops were killed in 2018, and 11 in 2017.
Last week, two Special Forces soldiers were killed in Faryab Province.
In recent years, American troops have assumed more of an advisory role in Afghanistan, including providing training to Afghan forces. But they have also launched airstrikes and sent in Special Operations units to target terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Taliban.
In an effort to coerce the Taliban into negotiations, though, the American campaign has been far more aggressive than in years past, with hundreds of airstrikes and dozens of commando raids a month.
Last fall, Gen. Austin S. Miller, the leader of the American and North Atlantic Treaty Organization missions in Afghanistan, increased the number of Army Special Forces teams that can launch raids and other missions alongside their Afghan counterparts.
But Afghan security forces have borne the brunt of the enduring war, with at least 45,000 troops and police officers killed since 2014. The forces often lose several people a day across the country’s 34 provinces.
On a whole in recent months, the Afghan military has assumed a more defensive posture. The strategy is aimed at holding territory and ensuring that key roads remain open between major cities like Kabul, the capital, and Kandahar.