Two U.S. soldiers killed in a firefight Tuesday in central Afghanistan have been identified as a Special Forces master sergeant based at Fort Carson, Colorado, and an explosive ordnance Sergeant based at Fort Hood, Texas.
In a release Wednesday, the Defense Department said that Master Sgt. Micheal B. Riley, 32, of Heilbronn, Germany, and Sgt. James G. Johnston, 24, of Trumansburg, New York, died of wounds from small arms fire in a battle Tuesday with alleged Taliban enemy combatants in Afghanistan's Uruzgan province.
Riley, who was on his sixth deployment to Afghanistan, was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), and Johnston was assigned to 79th Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), 71st Ordnance Group.
The incident that resulted from combat operations in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel is under investigation, DoD officials said in the release.
The deaths of the two soldiers brings the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year to nine, according to DoD. In 2018, 13 American troops were killed in Afghanistan, up from 11 in 2017.
Johnston, who entered the military in July 2013, had deployed in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel in March, according to a Fort Hood release.
"He was the epitome of what we as Soldiers all aspire to be: intelligent, trained, always ready. We will honor his service and his sacrifice to this nation as we continue to protect others from explosive hazards around the world," Lt. Col. Stacy M. Enyeart, commander of 79th Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), said in a statement.
Johnston's awards include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Combat Action Badge, Senior Explosive Ordnance Disposal Badge and Explosive Ordnance Badge.
Riley joined the Army in March 2006 and was a "seasoned and experienced Soldier" on his sixth deployment to Afghanistan, according to a release from U.S. Special Operations Command.
"It is with a heavy heart that we learn of the passing of Master Sgt. Micheal Riley in Afghanistan," Col. Lawrence G. Ferguson, commander of 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) said in a statement. "Mike was an experienced Special Forces non-commissioned officer and the veteran of five previous deployments to Afghanistan. "We will honor his service and sacrifice as we remain steadfast in our commitment to our mission."
Riley was born Dec. 6, 1986, in Germany, and joined the Army in March 2006. After completing basic combat training and airborne school, he was assigned to the 112th Special Operations Command Europe Signal Detachment.
He completed the Special Forces Qualification Course in 2012 and was assigned to 10th SFG (A), the Army Special Operations Command release said.
Among his awards and decorations were the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Achievement Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award with Oak Leaf Cluster, and three awards of the Army Good Conduct Medal. Riley was also the recipient of the Special Forces Tab, the Ranger Tab, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Military Freefall Parachutist Badge, the release said.
The deaths of Johnston and Riley came two months after three American soldiers were killed in an explosion near Bagram Air Base in Parwan Province. In March, two members of an American Special Forces unit and four Afghan special forces soldiers were killed during an operation on the outskirts of Kunduz, according to DoD.
A U.S. contractor was also reportedly killed this week in Afghanistan. Retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian McCoy, who worked with firm CACI International was killed Monday, according to a report from Newsweek.
More than 2,400 American military personnel have been killed since the war began and more than 20,000 others have been wounded, according to Pentagon information.
The deaths of Johnston and Riley Tuesday came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Kabul to press for peace negotiations to end the Afghan war that began in 2001.
In a statement, Pompeo said "With so much going on in the world right now, it's sometimes easy to forget about America's commitment here to Afghanistan, but the world should know that the Trump administration has not forgotten, the American people have not forgotten."
"As President Trump has said, the hour has come for peace." Pompeo said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.