- As Trump praises China’s Xi over handling of North Korea
At least two U.S. military service members were killed and another wounded Wednesday night during a firefight with ISIS in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. military officials said.
Two of the service members who were wounded were medevaced and later died of their injuries. A bullet grazed the third service member, the officials said. Numerous ISIS fighters were also killed.
Troops were conducting an operation with the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces when they came under attack in Nangarhar province, a remote area along the border with Pakistan, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Thursday.
The mission occurred in the Momand Valley — the same place where earlier this month, the U.S. dropped the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used — also known as the “mother of all bombs” — to obliterate an ISIS tunnel complex.
ISIS’s regional branch for South Asia, known as ISIS-K — for the Khorasan province — calls the region home.
“The fight against ISIS-K is important for the world, but sadly, it is not without sacrifice,” Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in a statement.
Davis said the service members’ identities are being withheld pending next of kin notification.
Afghanistan remains mired in violence and bloodshed as the Taliban and ISIS fight over territory and clash against government and coalition forces.
While military officials say the non-nuclear bomb strike was a tactical one, questions have arisen as to whether the U.S. plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan.
Nicholson has suggested to Congress that the NATO coalition needs several thousand more troops in the country, although neither Defense Secretary Jim Mattis nor President Donald Trump have committed to that publicly. There are some 8,400 U.S. personnel stationed there now to train and advise Afghan forces and support a counterterrorism unit against the various militant networks.
Another American soldier was killed earlier this month while conducting operations against ISIS in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.
Mattis made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan earlier this week and met with Afghan leaders and U.S. military officials as he hammers out recommendations on America’s strategy there.
“We are under no illusions about the challenges associated with this mission,” Mattis told reporters.
In the meantime, Donald Trump has praised China’s President Xi Jinping for his handling of North Korea, calling him “a very good man” who loves his country.
The US president told Reuters he would like to solve the crisis diplomatically but that it was “difficult” and a “major, major conflict” was possible.
He also said it had been “very hard” for Kim Jong-un to take over North Korea at such a young age.
The UN Security Council is meeting to discuss North Korea on Friday.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said China has told the US it will impose sanctions on North Korea if it conducts further nuclear tests.
Shortly after being elected, Mr Trump had accused China of not doing enough to rein in North Korea, and suggested the US could take unilateral action.
But in a wide-ranging interview with Reuters from the Oval Office, Mr Trump – who met Mr Xi earlier this month – said the Chinese president “certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death”.
“He is a very good man and I got to know him very well.
“He loves China and he loves the people of China. I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it’s possible that he can’t,” he said.
Of Mr Kim, he said: “He’s 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age.”
But he stressed he was “not giving him credit”, and added: “I hope he’s rational.”
“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” said Mr Trump.
North Korea has carried out repeated missile tests in recent months and is threatening to conduct its sixth nuclear test.
NBC with additional report from BBC