A motorcycle packed with explosives sped up to a joint US-Afghan patrol moving through a village near Bagram Air Base in Parwan Province,Afghanistan and was detonated,killing six US Airmen and wounding two others,as well as a contractor.The Airmen were serving in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel,protecting the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram.Among the service members killed was Air National Guard Technical Sergeant Joesph Lemm,45,a 15-year veteran of the New York City Police Department who was recently promoted to Detective on the Bronx Warrants Squad and was on his third combat tour.TSGT Lemm and one of the other Airmen,Staff Sergeant Louis M. Bonacasa,31,were with the 105th Security Forces Squadron,Stewart Air National Guard Base,New York.The other four Airmen were with various units of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.Their bodies were received in a dignified manner at Dover Air Force Base,Delaware on Wednesday by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the vehicle-borne IED attack in an email to the Associated Press.It brings to ten the number of US troops killed in action in Afghanistan this year.Ten others died in non-hostile incidents.*
At the same time as their VBIED attack in the north,the Taliban militants were on the rampage in Helmand Province,thier traditional stronghold in the south of the country,capturing most of the strategic Sangin district.The Taliban have captured or are contesting 12 of Helmand's 14 districts.This fighting season has seen them spreading their offensives over a broad geographic area.They have not paused for a winter break as of yet,and the Pentagon reports that the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces are mounting an uneven response.A resilient Taliban insurgency remains an enduring threat to US,coalition and Afghan forces,as well as the Afghan people,the Pentagon said.
About 100-200 ANDSF were reportedly surrounded in Sangin and taking RPG fire as they ran out of ammunition and supplies.In response to this imminent collapse of Sangin and indeed Helmand itself,a small number of NATO Special Operations Forces have been sent in to advise and assist the ANDSF on the ground.Based at Camp Shorabak about 80 km from Sangin,British and US SOFs are reportedly participating in the operation,and British Apache helicopters have been seen in the air.About 65% of Helmand is currently under Taliban control,said Helmand Provincial Council chief Mohammed Kareen Atal.More than 2,000 ANDSF have been killed in Helmand this year,he added.*
The US Army's been around for 240 years,pointed out General John Campbell,commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan;the Afghan Army's been around for seven years.We're trying to build an airplane in flight.*
It's a tough fight,agreed US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter,who was on a visit to Afghanistan last week,and it's far from over.
Update:ANDSF claim they have liberated their surrounded colleagues with reinforcements and recaptured the government buildings in Sangin district centre.Fighting continued in other areas of Helmand,however.
Update 2:Heavy fighting in the Sangin area flared up again and raged into Saturday,claiming the lives of 21 ANDSF troops despite two US air strikes having been called in.It wasn't enough,ANDSF members complained.As well,they were critical of their leadership.
For his part,Afghan Defence Minister Mahmood Stanekzai criticised NATO for leaving too soon when it ended its combat operations and transitioned to the Resolute Support Mission in 2014.We were overstretched,he said,but I think we will overcome.The root of the problem is,we need more enablers,training and equipment.The right kind of support will enable us to do the job.