Two American service members were killed in a helicopter crash Wednesday in Afghanistan, the U.S. military said without providing further details.
The crash is under investigation but the military said preliminary reports indicated the incident was not caused by enemy fire, despite a claim from the Taliban that it shot down a helicopter in eastern Logar province, causing fatalities.
The deaths of the service members brings the number of U.S. combat fatalities this year in Afghanistan to 19. Approximately 14,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, and 2,400 U.S. soldiers have died in the U.S.-led war since 2001.
The U.S. military statement said that in accordance with U.S. Department of Defense policy, the names of the service members killed in action would be withheld until 24 hours after notification of their next of kin is complete.
A U.S. service member last died in Afghanistan on Sept. 16 and Wednesday’s crash comes amid signs the U.S., Taliban and Afghan government are trying to restart peace talks after President Donald Trump canceled them after a Taliban suicide-bomb attack in Kabul on Sept. 5 that killed a U.S. soldier and 11 others.
Two Western hostages, one American and one Australian, were freed by the Taliban on Tuesday after more than three years in captivity. Their release was part of a prisoner exchange that freed three high-profile Taliban members from the militant organization’s feared Haqqani network, known for targeting civilians.
Trump wants the majority of U.S. forces home from Afghanistan by next year and he has sought to bring together U.S. negotiators and representatives from the Taliban and the Afghan government. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has signaled the White House views the prisoner exchange as a goodwill gesture from the Taliban that could pave the way for a revival of the peace talks.
These talks were scheduled to be held in September at the U.S. Camp David presidential retreat, but collapsed after the Sept. 5. suicide-bomb attack.
In a tweet Wednesday, Trump suggested the peace talks might get back on track. “We join families of Kevin King & Tim Weeks in celebrating their release from Taliban captivity,” the president wrote. “Let’s hope this leads to more good things on the peace front like a ceasefire that will help end this long war,” he added.
The Taliban often claims responsibility for attacks on U.S.-led forces and spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid insisted in an interview it shot down the helicopter as “American invaders and their hirelings” raided Taliban posts. Mujahid added it was not unusual for Taliban fighters to engage with U.S. and Afghan military forces even when there are peace talks, or potential ones, taking place. He also said that it was now the responsibility of the U.S. to make “peace arrangements possible.”
Airy reported from Washington, D.C.; Hjelmgaard from London
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Afghanistan helicopter crash: 2 US service members killed