Wyatt Olson and Corey Dickstein
Stars and Stripes
The Pentagon has identified the two Green Beret soldiers killed Wednesday during combat operations in Faryab Province, Afghanistan, as Master Sgt. Luis F. Deleon-Figueroa, 31, and Master Sgt. Jose J. Gonzalez, 35.
Both were assigned to 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the Pentagon said in a statement Thursday.
The two died as a result of wounds sustained from small arms fire, according to a Pentagon statement Friday morning. The statement provided no further details.
“It was an honor having them serve within the ranks of 7th SFG (A). They were a part of our family, and will not be forgotten,” said group commander Col. John W. Sannes in the statement. “Our priority is to now provide the best possible care to the families of our fallen warriors.
Deleon-Figueroa, a native of Chicopee, Mass., had served more than 13 years in the Army, completing the Special Forces Qualification Course in 2014 as a Special Forces communications sergeant, and then as a Special Forces operations and intelligence sergeant, according to the Pentagon’s statement.
He deployed six times during his career, first as an infantryman to Iraq in 2008, and to Afghanistan in 2010. As a Green Beret, he deployed to South America in 2015 and 2018, and to Afghanistan in 2018 and 2019, the statement said.
Deleon-Figueroa’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal with Valor, Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters and Army Achievement Medal with three clusters
Gonzalez, a native of La Puente, Calif., was assigned to 7th Special Forces Group in 2014, the statement said. Gonzalez’s family requested that the Army not release further information about him, according to the Pentagon.
Both men were posthumously promoted to the rank of master sergeant.
The deaths bring the number of American troops killed by hostile enemy action in 2019 to 14, the highest number of U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan since former President Barack Obama formally ended combat operations there at the end of 2014. Thirteen American troops were killed by enemy forces in 2018 and 39 were killed in action in 2014, according to Pentagon data.
The incident comes about three weeks after two American soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan soldier in an apparent insider attack at a base in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.
It also comes as peace talks ramp up between U.S. and Taliban officials, who have both recently signaled they are closer to reaching an agreement that would lead to at least a partial withdrawal of American forces from the country.
The hardline Islamist group has demanded a full withdrawal of American forces, while the United States has insisted the group must ensure Afghanistan does not revert to a haven for terrorist groups and that women’s rights are upheld in the country.
The United States has also insisted the Taliban negotiate with the central Afghan government, terms at which Taliban officials have balked, labelling the Afghan leaders as American puppets.
The U.S. war in Afghanistan is now in its 18th year. Some 14,000 American troops are deployed there and charged with two separate but related missions – to train and advise Afghan troops and to conduct counterterrorism operations.
Some 8,500 are training and advising Afghan security forces to stabilize the country and battle the Taliban insurgency, under the U.S.-led NATO mission known as Resolute Support. The rest of the forces serve under the American Freedom’s Sentinel mission, which targets primarily the remnants of al-Qaida and Islamic State fighters.
Since the United States first launched military operations in Afghanistan in October 2001, more than 2,400 troops have been killed and more than 20,000 have been wounded in action, according to Pentagon statistics.
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