Just a few days before Christmas, six Americas were killed near Kabul, Afghanistan when a suicide attacker rammed his motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol.
“Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of those affected in this tragic incident, especially during this holiday season,” said US Army Brig. Gen. William Schoffner.
The patrol was attacked Monday as it moved through a small town near Bagram Airfield. The suicide attacker, later identified as a Taliban fighter, crashed a bomb-laden motorcycle into the patrol.
One of the six victims was Joseph Lemm, a New York City police detective who worked for the NYPD for 15 years. This was his fourth deployment overseas. Lemm had a wife and three children.
This attack is “a painful reminder of the dangers our troops face every day in Afghanistan,” said Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Monday’s suicide attack was the deadliest against foreign troops since August 22nd when three Americans were killed in Kabul. Earlier in August, 35 people were killed in Kabul during three insurgent attacks.
Taliban insurgency has only intensified since the international drawdown. Nearly 10,000 troops remain in Afghanistan to help the country fight the dangerous, battle-hardened members of the Taliban and to “train, assist, and advise” Afghan soldiers.
Monday’s attack coincided with a battle for a strategic location in the Helmand province. Insurgents captured the Sangin district on Sunday – a mighty blow to Afghanistan’s struggling government and thinly spread forces.
Helmand is important to the Taliban because it produces a large portion of the world’s opium – a crop that helps fund the Taliban insurgency.
The province’s deputy governor, Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, was forced to resort to Facebook to reach Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. “We had to take to social media to reach you as Helmand is falling into the hands of the enemy and it requires your immediate attention,” wrote Rasulyar.
Special forces and Army commandoes arrived in the beleaguered district on Monday to aid in the fight. Taliban forces have captured Sangin several times during recent years. Fighting there has resulted in severe casualties for both Afghan and international forces.
According to Muhammad Kareem Atal, the head of Helmand’s provincial council, the Taliban controls nearly 70% of Helmand. “In every district either we are stepping back to we are handing territory over to Taliban, but still, until now, no serious action has been taken,” said Atal.
Taliban forces have been working with other insurgent groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, to overrun several districts throughout the country this year. While territory is rarely held longer than a few days, the impact on morale is significant.
The Taliban is a political movement in Afghanistan that has been waging war in that country for more than 10 years. It held power from 1996 to 2001, enforcing the highly criticized Sharia law.
The group’s founder and leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, died in 2013. The Taliban announced his death two years later (this past July) and fighting in Afghanistan has only worsened since.
According to eh Pentagon, the security situation in Afghanistan will deteriorate as the “resilient Taliban-led insurgency remains an enduring threat to US, coalition, and Afghan forces, as well as to the Afghan people.”