WASHINGTON — A Green Beret sergeant from Idaho was killed in action Thursday in Afghanistan, becoming the 15th U.S. combat casualty there this year as the Pentagon prepares to draw down its forces in the country.
Although the Pentagon has not yet officially released the soldier’s name, he was identified Friday as Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Ard on the Facebook page of Idaho State Rep. Rod Furniss.
Furniss posted a statement written by the soldier’s father, Bruce Ard, which read in part, “We received news that we lost our son Dustin in Afghanistan. My heart has a hole so big I can hardly stand it. He was the finest young man I have ever known. Not because he was my son but because of the person he is. A great son, brother, father, and husband. He loved his country and was the kind of person we should all be.”
Ard is survived by his pregnant wife and 3-year-old daughter, according to Idaho media.
Ard was killed at the outset of a raid alongside Afghan commandos in Afghanistan’s southern Zabul province, the New York Times reported Friday. A Pentagon spokesman could not confirm those details but said an investigation has been initiated.
The Post Register of Idaho Falls published a statement attributed to Col. Owen G. Ray, Ard’s commander.
“Dustin was a warrior — an accomplished, respected and loved Special Forces Soldier that could strike up a friendship with anyone, anywhere,” Ray said in the statement.
The incident follows the deaths of two Green Berets during an Aug. 21 raid on Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan’s Faryab province. Special Forces Master Sgts. Jose J. Gonzalez and Luis F. Deleon-Figueroa were killed by small arms fire in that incident.
Three U.S. soldiers were also killed in action in July in two separate engagements.
Seventeen U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan so far this year, and all but two were killed in combat. This marks the deadliest year for American troops serving in Afghanistan since 2014, when then-President Barack Obama ended formal combat operations against the Taliban in favor of a mission largely dedicated to training and advising Afghan security forces. The United States lost 39 troops to combat action in 2014.
The latest death happened on the same day President Donald Trump announced he would reduce the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan from about 14,000 to about 8,600 once a peace agreement with the Taliban is reached. State Department and Taliban officials have been working toward an agreement that would exchange the partial pullout of U.S. troops for Taliban assurances that they would not harbor terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
The agreement would also call for the insurgent group to meet with Afghan leadership to negotiate a ceasefire. The parties, who have been negotiating in Doha, Qatar, have said in recent days that an accord was nearing completion.
Trump, long a critic of the war in Afghanistan and who at times has said he intends to pull all U.S. forces from that country, said Thursday he had decided to leave some troops in Afghanistan primarily to conduct counterterrorism operations and gather intelligence.
Pentagon leaders have warned a full pullout could leave room for terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State to gain power. Trump, however, has repeatedly criticized the U.S. military mission there as a ridiculous policing operation.
“We’re not fighting a war over there — we’re just policemen,” the president said Thursday during a Fox News Radio interview in which he announced the coming drawdown.
Trump did say he had been convinced to leave some troops there on the counterterrorism mission to ensure Afghanistan cannot be used to plan terrorist attacks on the United States, such as the 9/11 attacks. He called Afghanistan the “Harvard University of terrorism,” a line he has used repeatedly in recent weeks.
It remains unclear when American troops will begin leaving Afghanistan, though two Pentagon officials said Friday that it would not happen before a formal agreement with the Taliban had been reached.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that the Afghan security forces cannot sustain military operations against the Taliban or other forces in Afghanistan without the aid of American military power. He promised the U.S. would continue its support for the Afghan military until violence was reduced to a level it could manage alone.
The U.S. has been fighting in Afghanistan since October 2001 when it launched operations to drive the Taliban from power after the 9/11 attacks. More than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed and more than 20,000 have been wounded in action there, according to Pentagon statistics.