The death of a U.S. soldier in an apparent "insider attack" in Afghanistan Wednesday ended the longest period without a combat fatality of a U.S. service member since the 9/11 terror attacks.
Pentagon officials said one U.S. soldier was killed and at least two others were wounded while on a mission to guard U.S. diplomatic personnel at a meeting in Jalalabad in southeastern Afghanistan.
An individual wearing the uniform of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) opened fire on U.S. troops and was killed by their return fire, according to early reports of the incident. Several other U.S. service members were injured in the attack.
The last combat deaths for the U.S. military came 116 days ago in Afghanistan's Parwan province. Sgt. 1st Class Ramon S. Morris, 37, and Spec. Wyatt J. Martin, 22, were killed when their vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device last Dec. 12. The two soldiers were assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division.
The previous longest periods without a U.S. combat death occured in 2002 before the invasion of Iraq. Those periods lasted 56 days, 48 days and 43 days, according to the Washington Post.
In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said that the shooting in Jalalabad occurred following meetings between a senior U.S. official and the provincial governor outside Afghan government offices.
"We are aware that there was an exchange of gunfire involving (Operation) Resolute Support service members near the provincial governor's compound in Jalalabad," the statement said. U.S. Ambassador P. Michael McKinley was not at the meeting with the governor and Afghan tribal and community leaders.
Provincial police chief Gen. Fazel Ahmad Shirzad told NBC News: "The members of coalition forces from Jalalabad airbase who had attended the meeting were preparing to convoy back to the base when an Afghan army soldier who was part of the original convoy escorting coalition forces to the meeting opened fire."
The Afghan soldier reportedly fired from the back of a pickup truck.
If confirmed as an insider attack, it would be the first on U.S. troop since Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene was killed last August in Afghanistan when an Afghan soldier opened fire on his party as they visited a military academy outside Kabul.
The insider attack Wednesday was the first against U.S. troops this year but not the first against Americans.
On Jan. 29, three American contractors working for Praetorian Standard, Inc., were killed and a fourth was wounded in an attack at a military facility on the grounds of Kabul's international airport. The assailant wore an ANSF uniform and the Taliban later claimed that he was a member of the insurgent group who had infiltrated ANSF ranks.
Praetorian Standard, Inc., based in Fayetteville, N.C., "specializes in providing innovative strategic planning, logistics, operational and security management support services in challenging environments around the world," according to its website.
Praetorian has worked in Afghanistan since 2010, and lately has been providing transportation and security support to a Defense Department and U.S. Geological Survey program that is exploring the potential of mineral deposits in Afghanistan.
Currently, there are slightly more than 12,000 coalition troops in Afghanistan -- about 10,000 of them American.
Last month at the White House, President Obama and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani agreed that nearly all of the U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan would remain for the rest of this year.
However, Obama also said that he was sticking to his initial plan to have all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016 with the exception of a small contingent for embassy security and other duties.
Operation Freedom's Sentinel for U.S. troops ended last December, and U.S. troops now in Afghanistan are involved in Operation Inherent Resolve, which is in support of the coalition's Operation Resolute Support.
The shooting in Jalalabad came at one of the four centers of coalition operations. Under the command of Army Gen. John Campbell, coalition forces now have a central hub in Kabul and four bases around the country at Jalalabad in the southeast, Kandahar in the southwest, Herat in the west and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north.
The four bases were previously known as Regional Commands and are now called TAACs, or Tactical Advise and Assist Commands.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org