Six American servicemen died and two others were wounded along with an Afghan contractor during a Taliban attack on Monday. The U.S. soldiers and Afghan National Security Forces were patrolling on foot through the village of Bajawryan near Bagram airbase in Parwan province.
According to a NATO spokesperson, the attack occurred at 1:30 pm local time on Monday when a suicide bomber rammed an explosive-laden motorcycle into the patrol.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the insurgent group claimed that at least “19 U.S. aggressors were killed in a vehicle-borne martyr attack near Bagram base in northern Parwan province in the early afternoon hours of the day.” The Taliban routinely exaggerate casualty figures.
The statement claims that the attack was carried out by an insurgent named Zahidullah, “a fearless Mujahid part of the martyr unit of the Islamic Emirate [who] slammed his motorbike filled with explosives near a large number of the U.S. invading troops gathered near the Bagram base (…)”
The police chief of Parwan province said three Afghan policemen were also wounded in the attack.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who briefly visited Bagram airbase last Friday said in a statement:
It is with deep regret that I learned today that six U.S. service members died in Afghanistan Monday. We are still learning all of the details, but two other service members and a U.S. contractor were also injured. They died after a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack on their patrol outside Bagram Air Base. It serves as a painful reminder of the dangers our troops face every day in Afghanistan.
One of the killed U.S. servicemen has been identified as New York City police detective, Joseph Lemm, a 15-year-old veteran of the New York Police Department, who served in the U.S. National Guard.
The incident was the deadliest attack on U.S. military personnel since the official end of NATO combat operations in 2014. According to the website iCasualties.org, 27 coalition members have so far died in Afghanistan in 2015.
Bagram airbase, located around 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Kabul, houses around 13,500 men and women, the majority of which (around 8,500) are contractors and civilian personnel from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Georgian, Czech, and U.S. soldiers from the U.S. National Guard and the 10th Mountain Division regularly conduct patrols in the vicinity of Bagram airbase to “disrupt enemy operations,” although a U.S. officer speaking to The Diplomat in Bagram in early December stressed that coalition forces stationed in Bagram “are not an action arm.”
All operations “outside the wire,” the officer continued, “are focused on base defense.” Coalition forces also hold regular so-called “key leader engagements” with Afghan officials to gather intelligence on Taliban movements and interact with the local population the officer added.
Bagram airbase is first and foremost a logistics hub for coalition forces in Afghanistan. “We are the guys behind the scene,” explained Bagram’s base commander, Major General Jeffrey L. Bannister, in an interview with The Diplomat. “Our primary task in Bagram is overseeing retrograde, redeployment, and material reduction operations.”