Two Army Rangers -- Sgts. Joshua Rodgers and Cameron Thomas -- may have been killed by friendly fire while conducting a night raid against an ISIS affiliate in eastern Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Friday.
In releasing the identities of Rodgers, 22, of Bloomington, Illinois, and Thomas, 23, of Kettering, Ohio, the Pentagon also said that the Army had begun a fact-finding Article 15-6 investigation into the circumstances of their deaths in Nangarhar province, less than a mile from the site where the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb was dropped April 13.
"It is possible these Rangers were struck by friendly fire" at the outset of a three-hour firefight against fighters of the offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria known as Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or ISIS-K, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
Initial reports from the scene indicated that if it was friendly fire, it was not intentional, Davis said in playing down the possibility that Rodgers and Thomas may have been victims of a "green on blue" incident in which Afghan soldiers turned on their American advisers.
In a statement, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan also said that Rodgers and Thomas may have fallen to friendly fire. "We have informed both of their families of this possibility, and we have appointed a team to investigate the soldiers' deaths," the statement said.
U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said the main target of the raid was Abdul Hasib, the so-called "Emir" of ISIS-K who "exercised command and control over operations involving ISIS-K and their connections with the larger ISIS network."
Davis said Hasib may have been killed in the raid, but there was no immediate confirmation.
The raid began at about 10:30 p.m. local time as the assault force was inserted by helicopter in the Achin district of Nangarhar province and almost immediately came under fire from multiple directions. However, the Rangers and Afghan troops pressed on with the assault and killed as many as 35 of the ISIS-K fighters, Davis said.
"If confirmed, the death of the 'Emir' and his associates will significantly degrade ISIS-K operations in Afghanistan and help reach our goal of destroying them in 2017," U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said.
Both Rodgers and Thomas joined the Army out of high school, and both were serving on their third overseas deployment, the service said in a statement.
After graduating from high school, Rodgers enlisted from his hometown of Bloomington, Illinois, in August 2013, and completed One Station Unit Training at Fort Benning, Georgia, as an infantryman, the Army said.
After graduating from the Basic Airborne Course, Rodgers was assigned to the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program 1, also at Benning. He graduated from RASP 1 and was then assigned to Company C, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, where he served as a machine gunner, semi-automatic gunner, gun team leader and Ranger team leader, the Army said.
Rodgers' awards and decorations included the Ranger Tab, the Parachutist Badge and the Marksmanship Qualification Badge Expert-Rifle. He was also awarded the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, and the NATO Medal.
Thomas was born in August 1993 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After graduating from high school, he enlisted from his hometown of Kettering, Ohio, in February 2012, and completed One Station Unit Training at Fort Benning as an infantryman.
After graduating from the Basic Airborne Course at Benning, Thomas graduated from RASP 1 and was then assigned to Company D, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, where he served as an automatic rifleman, grenadier, and anti-armor specialist, the Army said.
Thomas' awards and decorations included the Joint Service Achievement Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Non-Commissioned Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, and the NATO Medal.
In the battle in which Rodgers and Thomas lost their lives, a third Ranger was wounded but was able to continue the fight, Davis said.
The deaths of Rodgers and Thomas bring the total number of U.S. troops killed in combat this year in Afghanistan to three. All were Special Forces.
Earlier this month, in the same area of Nangarhar province, Army Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37, of Edgewood, Maryland, was killed in a firefight with ISIS-K fighters. He died of injuries sustained when his unit came in contact with enemy forces using small-arms fire during combat operations, according to an April 10 Defense Department press release.
De Alencar was assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said, "The families and fellow Rangers of Sgt. Joshua 'Josh' Rodgers and Sgt. Cameron Thomas have my respect and sympathies. Fighting alongside their Afghan partners, Josh and Cameron proved themselves willing to go into danger and impose a brutal cost on enemies in their path.
"They carried out their operation against ISIS-K in Afghanistan before making the ultimate sacrifice to defend our nation and our freedoms. Our nation owes them an irredeemable debt, and we give our deepest condolences to their families," Mattis said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.