A U.S. Army Special Forces soldier was killed in Afghanistan Saturday, marking the first American combat casualty in that country this year.
Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, 37, was killed while engaging in an operation against a branch of the Islamic State in Afghanistan. The soldier was accompanying Afghan special forces in Shadal Bazaar, a town in the eastern part of the country. Alencar is from Edgewood, Md.
“The soldier was mortally wounded late Saturday during an operation in Nangarhar province,” Capt. Bill Salvin, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told The New York Times Sunday.
De Alencar died due to “injuries sustained when his unit came in contact with enemy forces using small arms fire during combat operations,” according to a Pentagon statement released Monday. He was a member of 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
Achin is a major flash point for ISIS activity in Afghanistan. Shadal Bazaar has been the front line of fighting between U.S.-backed Afghan forces and ISIS fighters, tribal elder Malik Kamin told TheNYT. The ISIS presence in the country is limited, but the terrorist group has been able to engage in successful attacks in the recent past.
The U.S. lost 13 soldiers in Afghanistan last year, 10 of which were combat-related deaths. A total of 2,217 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion in 2001, according to Pentagon figures.
The U.S.-led combat mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014. It was replaced by NATO’s Resolute Support mission, which seeks to support the fragile Afghan government and security forces. U.S. forces are also engaged in a counter-terrorism mission in attempt to destroy ISIS and al-Qaida remnants in the country.
The casualty comes as Afghanistan’s spring fighting season is about to begin. The U.S. currently maintains a contingent of 8,400 soldiers in Afghanistan, yet Gen. John Nicholson, chief of the mission in the country, has asked for more soldiers in order to counter what is expected to be a difficult fighting season.
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