International Desk: Two U.S. service members were killed on Thursday battling Taliban insurgents in northern Afghanistan alongside local troops, NATO said, rare combat deaths for American forces who largely handed over securing the war-torn nation to Afghan troops some two years ago.
Kunduz officials later said they were investigating claims that local civilians also were killed in the fighting, possibly in a retaliatory airstrike.
NATO described the Americans killed and two other Americans wounded in the assault as being part of “a train, advise and assist mission” in Afghanistan`s Kunduz province.
“Today`s loss is heartbreaking and we offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of our service members who lost their lives today,” Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said in a statement.
NATO declined to identify those killed, pending notification of the next of kin. NATO and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press to further clarify the American troops` mission in the area.
Kunduz official Mohammad Yousf Ayoubi and parliament member Malim Chari both later told the AP that civilians were killed in the fighting, though details were few. NATO and the Pentagon also did not immediately respond to questions about the claim.
A Taliban statement also said there were civilian casualties while claiming its fighters killed 16 U.S. troops. The insurgents often exaggerate their battlefield successes.
Taliban fighters briefly overran the city of Kunduz, the provincial capital with the same name, in early October, a show of strength by the insurgents that also highlighted the troubles facing local Afghan forces some 15 years after the U.S.-led invasion of the country. The Taliban captured and held parts of Kunduz a year earlier as well before the city was fully liberated weeks later with the help of U.S. airstrikes.