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U.S. troops wounded in apparent insider attack in Afghanistan

March 19, 2017 (Photo Credit: Kay M. Nissen/NATO)
WASHINGTON — Three U.S soldiers were shot Sunday in an apparent insider attack at an Afghan military base in Helmand province, raising to at least 15 the number of American personnel wounded in Afghanistan so far this year.

The Americans are being treated for their injuries, said Navy Capt. William Salvin, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Afghanistan in Kabul. He had no further details about their medical condition.

It's not immediately clear to which unit the Americans are assigned.

The attack happened around 1:30 p.m. at Camp Antonik, Salvin said. The facility is located near the larger Camp Shorabak complex and houses both U.S. and Afghan commando units.

The base is named for Staff Sgt. Christoper Antonik, a Marine Corps Raider who was killed in Helmand in July 2010. In 2015, it was the site of an insider attack that resulted in the deaths of  two American special tactics airmen.

The gunman, whom Salvin identified as an Afghan soldier, was shot and killed by coalition security forces after he opened fire on the Americans. Officials have not disclosed the Afghan's identity nor have they said to which unit he was assigned.

A spokesman for the Afghan military told The Associated Press the shooting was an unintentional "mistake." 

At least six U.S. troops have been wounded in Afghanistan so far in March, just one shy of February's total, according to casualty statistics maintained by the Defense Department. Year to date, all 15 wounded-in-action reports involve Army personnel.

There were at least 70 Americans wounded in action for all of 2016, and nine deaths were classified as hostile. No Americans have been reported killed in action in Afghanistan so far this year.

Approximately 8,000 U.S. troops are deployed there as part of two separate operations. The larger operation of the two, known as Resolute Support, is focused on advising and assisting Afghan security forces, with the goal of enabling them to independently protect the country's populace from a resilient Taliban. The other is a counter-terrorism mission called Freedom's Sentinel. It comprises mostly elite special operations troops and remains focused on targeting the many al-Qaida affiliates present in Afghanistan.

Both operations require American personnel to embed with their Afghan counterparts.

In addition to the Afghan commandos based at Camp Antonik, the Afghan army's 215th Corps is based in Helmand along with the 505th National Police Zone. The U.S. Army unit embedded there is called Task Force Forge and composed mostly of soldiers from the Indiana National Guard.

Task Force Forge will be replaced in the coming weeks by a contingent of 300 U.S. Marines from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. They will be called Task Force Southwest.

Late last week, U.S. and Afghan military officials indicated they are  bracing for more violence throughout the region. As a result, U.S. officials intend to increase their presence in major population centers, including in Nad Ali and Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital. 

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, told Congress last month that the 15-year war had reached a stalemate, and that an unspecified number of additional American military personnel would be required to beat back the Taliban and regain an advantage. The head of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, said this month that he supports such a move. The White House has not indicated publicly how it intends to proceed. 

Andrew deGrandpre is Military Times' senior editor and Pentagon bureau chief. On Twitter: @adegrandpre. With additional reporting by Military Times staff writer Shawn Snow. On Twitter: @SnowSox184.
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