(Updated: Identifies fallen soldiers, adds photograph)
(CNSNews.com) – The death of two U.S. Green Berets in Afghanistan on Wednesday brings to 14 the number of American military personnel killed in combat there this year – the highest annual combat death toll since 2014, and with more than four months of the year yet to run.
The Pentagon on Thursday identified the two soldiers as Master Sgt. Luis F. DeLeon-Figueroa, 31, of Chicopee, Mass., and Master Sgt. Jose J. Gonzalez, 35, of La Puente, Calif.
The soldiers, assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., died “as a result of wounds sustained from small arms fire while engaged in combat operations” in Faryab, a province in the north of Afghanistan, bordering Turkmenistan.
The number of combat deaths this year, 14 to date, compares to 13 in 2018, 11 in 2017, nine in 2016, and 11 in 2015. Forty U.S. personnel were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2014.
Since the start of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which succeeded Operation Enduring Freedom in January 2015, a total of 77 U.S. personnel have died, 57 of them in combat circumstances
And since Operation Enduring Freedom began in October 2001, 2,428 U.S. personnel have been killed in the conflict, 1,904 of them in combat, according to a tally of official data.
Reacting to the deaths of Deleon-Figueroa and Gonzalez, who were promoted posthumously to the rank of master sergeant, Col. John W. Sannes, commander of the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), said 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.”
“Our priority is to now provide the best possible care to the Families of our fallen warriors” he said. “We ask that you keep their Families and teammates in your thoughts and prayers.”
According to U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Deleon-Figueroa served more than 13 years in the Army, was assigned first as a Special Forces communications sergeant, and then as a Special Forces operations and intelligence sergeant.
He was deployed six times, serving in Iraq in 2008, Afghanistan in 2010, in South America in 2015 and 2018, and in Afghanistan again in 2018 and 2019.
At the family’s request, no additional information and no photo of Gonzalez has yet been released.
The latest deaths come amid continuing talks between U.S. envoys and the Taliban terrorist group, aimed at finding a negotiated settlement to America’s longest war.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. lead negotiator, briefed President Trump and national security officials at the weekend on progress, before heading back to Doha, Qatar on Wednesday for more talks.
“Productive week in Washington,” Khalilzad tweeted on Wednesday. “Briefed management on where we are and next steps. Back on the road again. First stop Doha where we will try and close on remaining issues. We’re ready. Let’s see if the Taliban are as well.”
Speaking in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Trump said it was “ridiculous” how long the U.S. has been fighting in Afghanistan.
“We have good talks going, and we’ll see what happens,” he said. “We are bringing some of our troops back. But we have to have a presence.”
“Right now, what we’re doing is we’re negotiating with the government and we’re negotiating with the Taliban, and we’ll see what happens from it, what’s coming from it,” the president said. “I will say this: The Taliban would like to stop fighting us. They would like to stop fighting us. They’ve lost a lot. But we’ll see what happens.”
Asked whether he thought the Taliban could be trusted to honor a negotiated peace deal, Trump replied, “Nobody can be trusted.”
“But could we be back to where we were pre-9/11, with the Taliban in complete and total control of Afghanistan?” a reporter asked.
“Well, that’s what we have to watch. And we’ll always have intelligence, and we’ll always have somebody there,” Trump said, describing Afghanistan as “the Harvard University of terrorism.”
The Taliban, he added, “could stop that from happening very easily.”
There are currently between 13,000 and 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, almost 8,500 of them attached to the NATO-led Resolute Support mission, whose task is to “train, advise and assist” Afghan forces. Another 8,600 troops from almost 40 partner countries are part of that mission.
The remaining U.S. troops are engaged in counterterrorism operations. Special Forces personnel have accounted for most of the U.S. combat fatalities this year.
Details of the other 12 U.S. soldiers and Marines killed in combat this year follow:
July 29: Pfc. Brandon Jay Kreischer, 20, of Stryker, Ohio died as a result of wounds sustained in a combat related incident in southern Afghanistan. He was with the 82nd Airborne Division, based in Fort Bragg,
July 29: Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance, 24, of Chicago died as a result of wounds sustained in a combat related incident in southern Afghanistan. He too was with the 82nd Airborne Division.
July 13: Special Forces Sgt. Maj. James “Ryan” Sartor, 40, of Teague, Texas, died in Faryab province, as a result of “enemy small arms fire.”
June 25: Special Forces Master Sgt. Micheal Riley, 32, of Heilbronn, Germany, assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group, died in Uruzgan province of wounds sustained from small arms fire during combat.
June 25: Explosives ordnance disposal specialist Sgt. James Johnston, 24, of Trumansburg, N.Y., died in Uruzgan province of wounds sustained in combat from small arms fire.
April 8: U.S. Marine Cpl. Robert Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y., was killed during combat operations in Parwan province.
April 8: U.S. Marine Sgt. Benjamin Hines, 31, of York, Pennsylvania, was killed during combat operations in Parwan province.
April 8: U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, 43, an FDNY firefighter from Newark, Delaware, was killed during combat operations in Parwan province.
March 22: Explosives ordnance disposal specialist Spc. Joseph Collette, 29, of Lancaster, Ohio, died in Kunduz province as a result of wounds sustained during combat operations.
March 22: Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Will Lindsay, 33, of Cortez, Colorado, assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group, died in Kunduz province as a result of wounds sustained during combat operations.
January 22: Green Beret Staff Sgt. Joshua Beale, 32, of Carrollton, Virginia, assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), died as a result of injuries sustained from enemy small arms fire during combat operations in Uruzgan province.
January 17: Army Ranger Sgt. Cameron Meddock, 26, of Spearman, Texas, died at Landstuhl regional medical center in Germany, as a result of injuries sustained from small arms fire during combat operations on January 13, in Badghis province. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.