One US special operations soldier has been killed in Afghanistan with at least two others wounded, and a rescue helicopter that tried to reach them was forced to make an emergency landing after encountering mortar fire.
The soldiers had been taking part in a joint US-Afghan counter-terrorism operation near the town of Marjah in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, which has been the site of heavy fighting with the Taliban. They reportedly came under heavy fire from insurgents during the operation.
A Taliban spokesman claimed that the group shot down a US helicopter during the battle. According to the Pentagon, however, the helicopter was not shot down but was forced to make an emergency landing amid mortar and small arms fire.
LATEST: DOD: One US service member killed, 2 others wounded during operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/pcbj97xGHZ— ABC News (@ABC) January 5, 2016
That medevac helicopter landed safely in Marjah but was, at least initially, unable to reach the wounded soldiers. It is unclear whether the helicopter was struck.
"We can confirm a U.S. helicopter has landed in Marjah, Helmand Province, and is experiencing mechanical problems. It was not shot down," said Army Colonel Michael Lawhorn.
A US Army spokesman confirmed that a soldier had been killed.
"One US service member died as a result of wounds sustained during operations near Marja in Helmand Province today. Additionally, two US service members were wounded," Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner said in a statement.
"We are deeply saddened by this loss," he said, "our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of those involved"
Afghan Army soldiers were also reportedly wounded in the operation.
Helmand is a Taliban stronghold, and much of the opium that provides most of the group’s revenue comes from the province.
US and British offensives in Helmand between 2006 and 2010 had some success in pushing back the Taliban, but the group has been resurgent there in recent months and local Afghan officials have warned that it could fall completely into Taliban hands.