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U.S. Soldier Killed In Afghan Firefight; U.S., Afghan Troops Wounded

File photo of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
File photo of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON -- The United States says one of its soldiers has been killed and two others wounded when a joint U.S.-Afghan mission in Afghanistan's troubled Helmand Province came under attack.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said on January 5 that U.S. special operations troops were near the city of Marja when the incident happened.

Taliban gains in Helmand in recent weeks have alarmed the United States and its allies, which fear that the weak Afghan government is unable to fend off an increasing number of offensives.

Cook said two medical evacuation helicopters came under fire while trying to land. He said one left the area without landing, while the other was damaged when one of its rotors hit a wall.

An unknown number of Afghan troops also were wounded in the fight, which Cook said was still ongoing late on January 5 and continued to involve U.S. forces.

“It is safe to say that Afghanistan is a dangerous place,” Cook said.

"My understanding is that there may still be Americans on the ground in this immediate situation engaging with the enemy in support of Afghan forces," he said. "This is a fluid situation."

About 12,000 U.S. and other troops are deployed in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s Resolute Support mission.

Helmand, a sprawling province that stretches from the Pakistani border into central Afghanistan, has long been a stronghold of the Taliban and has seen fierce fighting in recent weeks.

Several dozen British special operations troops last month joined U.S. troops in Helmand after the town of Sangin appeared in danger of being overrun by Taliban forces.

In September, Taliban fighters seized the northern city of Kunduz -- the largest city to date -- and held it for about three days before Afghan forces, backed by U.S. air strikes, regained control.

A December 15 Defense Department report, prepared for Congress, warned that Afghanistan’s security situation had deteriorated sharply in 2015.

Earlier, President Barack Obama announced a halt to the withdrawal of U.S. forces, with 9,800 troops to remain in place through most of 2016 then dropping to 5,500 by early 2017.

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