The U.S. service members killed in an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan on Monday were Marines, the Navy secretary said Tuesday, marking the first combat casualties for the service in more than three years.
The Marines were killed by an IED attack on their vehicle near Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul. A contractor, an Afghan citizen who was initially reported dead, survived the attack, and three other U.S. troops were hurt in the blast.
Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer asked members of Congress to pause in honor of the Marines during a hearing on Capitol Hill.
"It is still a very risk-filled world out there," Spencer told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The Marines' identities have not yet been released by the Defense Department, pending family notification. One of the Marines was identified as Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman by the Kentland Volunteer Fire Department in Maryland where he served for 19 years, according to a statement from Fire Chief Oleg Pelekhaty.
“Through this trying time, we will remember Chris for the father, husband, brother, son, and friend that he was, the moral character he displayed daily, and the courage and conviction to serve his fellow Americans, both at home and abroad,” the statement reads. “… We ask for your thoughts and prayers for his firehouse brothers, his fellow Marines, his friends -- but most of all, his family.”
The deaths mark the first combat casualties for the Marine Corps in more than three years, according to Defense Department casualty reports. In March 2016, Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin was killed in northern Iraq from wounds he suffered when members of the Islamic State group attacked his unit with rocket fire.
The Taliban claimed responsibility on Twitter for Monday's attack. The insurgents were traveling with a vehicle-borne IED that hit the U.S. armored vehicle during a security patrol, Fox News reported.
Officials did not immediately respond to questions about how many Marines are currently operating in or around Bagram Air Base. As of last summer, some members of I Marine Expeditionary Force were operating in and around Bagram, where they were training Georgian soldiers, who provide base security there.
There are about 41,000 Marines forward-deployed in at least 60 countries around the world, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said Tuesday.
"Some in harm's way, as we found out all too well yesterday," he said.