Sgt. 1st Class Javier J. Gutierrez, 28, of San Antonio, Texas and Sgt. 1st Class Antonio R. Rodriguez, 28, of Las Cruces, New Mexico have been identified as the two special operations soldiers killed in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province on Saturday.
The two officers were part of a group of U.S. personnel from the 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group and members of the allied Afghan Special Operations Forces that were engaging with influential figures within the local community, in the Sherzad district of Nangarhar province. At least six others were injured during the hostilities.
“Upon completing a key-leader engagement at the district center, current reports indicate an individual in an Afghan uniform opened fire on the combined U.S. and Afghan force with a machine gun,” U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesperson Colonel Sonny Leggett said in a statement sent to Newsweek on Saturday. “We are still collecting information and the cause or motive behind the attack is unknown at this time. The incident is under investigation.”
“Sgt. 1st Class Gutierrez’ was a warrior that exemplified selfless service and a commitment to the mission, both values that we embody here in the 7th Special Forces Group,” Col. John W. Sannes, 7th Special Forces Group Commander, said in a statement emailed to Newsweek on Sunday. “Our priority now is to take care of his family and teammates, we will provide the best possible care possible during these trying times.”
Sannes described Rodriguez in similar terms.
“Sgt. 1st Class Rodriguez was selfless and served honorably; he was certainly among the best in our unit,” he said. “Here at the Red Empire, we take care of our own, and Sgt. 1st Class Rodriguez’ family will forever be a part of us, we will assist them in any way we can to help them through these trying times.”
The U.S. first invaded Afghanistan back in 2001, following the Al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001. Former President George W. Bush’s administration accused the Taliban, an extremist militant group which controlled the country, of harboring Al Qaeda. The conflict has become the longest continuous war in U.S. history. More than 2,400 U.S. personnel have been killed in the conflict.
President Donald Trump has pushed to withdraw American troops from the country and bring the conflict to an end. His administration has been negotiating with the Taliban in a bid to hammer out a peace deal between the group and the U.S.-backed government.
Despite those efforts, attacks and unrest have persisted. The Office of the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said last Tuesday that Taliban attacks had actually escalated significantly in the final months of 2019.