Two other U.S. soldiers were wounded in the incident in Afghanistan’s embattled Helmand province in which Pfc. Hansen B. Kirkpatrick, 19, of Wasilla, Alaska, was killed by enemy fire on July 3, a Pentagon spokesman revealed Wednesday.
The two soldiers’ wounds were not life threatening and they were being treated at a coalition medical facility, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, director of Press Operations at the Pentagon.
He said that Kirkpatrick suffered fatal injuries from indirect fire from the enemy, believed to be the Taliban, during a partnered operation with the Afghan National Security Defense Forces south of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand province.
“There are no indications this was friendly fire” that resulted in Kirkpatrick’s death, Davis said. He said the enemy indirect fire may have been from mortars but the incident was under investigation, which was normal procedure in the death of a service member. Kirkpatrick was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, out of Fort Bliss, Texas.
“Pfc. Hansen Kirkpatrick served honorably as a mortarman in 1-36 Infantry, the Spartans,” Maj. James C. Bithorn, executive officer of the 1st BCT of the 1st Armored, said in a statement. “He was a caring, disciplined and intelligent young soldier who lived the Spartan motto of ‘Deeds, Not Words.'”
“His service to the battalion spanned just over 12 months — a period of intense operational tempo — that culminated in a deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel/Resolute Support” mission, Bithorn said. “He will be greatly missed by his fellow soldiers and leaders alike.”
Brig. Gen. Mark H. Landes, deputy commanding general for Fort Bliss and the 1st Armored Division, said “Our thoughts and prayers are with Pfc. Kirkpatrick’s family and loved ones,” Landes said. “As there is no stronger bond than that between soldiers, the Army and 1st Armored Division mourn the loss as a family.”
Kirkpatrick was the seventh U.S. service member killed in Afghanistan this year, compared to 14 in 2016 and 22 in 2015 following major withdrawals of U.S. troops in 2014. Since the U.S. invasion after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, a total of 2,399 U.S. service members have died from combat or other causes in and around Afghanistan, according to the icasualties.orgwebsite.
In February, Nicholson began asking for 3,000-5,000 more troops to counter a resurgent Taliban which now controls more than 40 percent of Afghanistan’s districts, according to the United Nations and officer of the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The U.S. currently has about 8,500 troops in Afghanistan, and NATO and coalition countries have a total of about 5,000.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was expected to submit to President Donald Trump this month a new strategy for Afghanistan that he has said would focus on getting more cooperation from Afghanistan’s neighbors and emphasize more U.S. airpower to back up the Afghan forces.
Trump has authorized Mattis to set troop levels in Afghanistan, but Mattis last month, through spokeswoman Dana White, disputed published reports that he has already signed off on sending 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan as part of the new strategy. Davis said Wednesday that Mattis was still expected to submit the new strategy this month but gave no timeline.
Davis said the incident in which Kirkpatrick was killed occurred in the Nawah district of southwestern Helmand province. Nawah traditionally has been one of the major producers of opium and poppy in Helmand, the source of much of the world’s heroin.
The Nawah district has been part of a seesaw struggle between the ANDSF, trained and supported by the U.S., and the Taliban. Nawah fell to the Taliban last August, the ANDSF later gained the upper hand, and then the Taliban seized control again in October 2016 while killing the district’s chief of police.