Pentagon chief confident in Afghan strategy despite latest fatality

Pentagon chief confident in Afghan strategy despite latest fatality
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Defense Secretary Ash Carter has confidence in the administration's Afghan strategy despite renewed fighting that on Tuesday left one U.S. service member dead and two injured.

"The secretary's confident that current plan in place is adequate to deal with the situation in Afghanistan," Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said at a briefing on Tuesday.

President Obama ended the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan in December 2014, but scrapped plans to withdraw almost all troops by the time he left office. Instead, he allowed for approximately 9,800 troops to remain there through 2015, drawing down to 5,500 by the end of 2016.

The decision was prompted by a persistent Taliban insurgency over the past year that has threatened hard-fought gains U.S. and Afghan security forces. 

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Campbell told USA Today in an interview last week that he wants to keep as many of the current troops there for as long as possible to boost the beleaguered Afghan military.

Carter's support for the current strategy comes after a U.S. service member was killed and two were injured in a firefight in Marjah in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday.

The U.S. troops came under fire while conducting a train, advise and assist mission with their Afghan special operations counterparts on the ground in Marjah, Cook said. He said a "number" of Afghan forces were injured as well.

He also said the fight in Marjah was still "going on in the immediate surroundings."

It's not clear if those injured have been able to reach a medical facility. Two Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk Medevac helicopters were sent to provide assistance but one was "waved back" after taking fire and returned safely to base, and the other struck a wall, and remains on the ground.  

"There have been additional steps taken to ensure that we're doing everything we can to provide them the support they need on the ground and doing everything we can to ensure the safety and security of those American forces and the Afghan forces that they're with," he added.

Cook said despite the fighting, the U.S. combat mission is over and American troops are in a support role.

"It is safe to say that Afghanistan is a dangerous place, and that the U.S. forces that are providing assistance to the Afghans are in harm's way when they're there," he said.

"It's been a painful reminder, the last few weeks, but the Afghans are leading this fight, and they're doing it with the support of the United States and the support of other international partners," he added.

Last month, six U.S. airmen were killed after they were attacked by a suicide bomber while on patrol near Bagram Air Base. 

Cook left the door open for a change to the drawdown schedule, however.

"It's always a process of review and hearing directly from the commanders on the ground as to whether or not there needs to be adjustments to that," he said.