Update, 8:35pm ET: More than a dozen U.S. special ops commandos are currently pinned down and surrounded by Taliban fighters and heavy fire in Marjah, Afghanistan,, U.S. defense officials told Fox News on Tuesday. The firefight comes after one commando was killed and two more were injured earlier that day.
The defense official described the “harrowing” scene on the ground to Fox News like this: “On the map there is one green dot representing friendly forces stuck in the compound, and around it is a sea of red [representing hostile forces]."
Original story: A U.S. special operations commando was killed Tuesday in the first American battlefield casualty of 2016, while at least two others were wounded during an intense firefight in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, the Washington Post reports.
The Americans were conducting a joint U.S.-Afghan operation in the embattled town of Marjah when they came under heavy mortar and small arms fire. Some Afghan soldiers are believed to have been wounded in the fighting as well.
“We are deeply saddened by this loss,” Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement. “Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of those involved.”
According to a U.S. defense official, two HH-60 Pavehawks were dispatched to evacuate the casualties. However, upon landing, one slammed into a wall and was disabled, while the other was forced off the objective by incoming fire. As of Tuesday afternoon, the battle was still raging.
The Pentagon is disputing claims by the Taliban that the insurgent group shot down the disabled helicopter.
"We can confirm a U.S. helicopter has landed in Marjah, Helmand Province, and is experiencing mechanical problems. It was not shot down," said Army Colonel Michael Lawhorn.
The battle comes amid mounting efforts by the Afghan army to dislodge the Taliban from Helmand, which saw heavy fighting between NATO and insurgent forces during the U.S.-led war.
Since the NATO drawdown in Afghanistan began, the Taliban has managed to retake considerable ground in Helmand, where it harvests most of its opium. According to the Post, the Taliban controlled 90 percent of Marjah as of early December 2015.
For many U.S. Marines, Marjah is hallowed ground. In the Spring of 2010, the Marines spearheaded a major offensive to drive the Taliban from the town, which was then its last major stronghold in Helmand. The ensuing battle lasted several months and cost the lives of dozens of Marines.