On Monday afternoon, a motorcycle exploded near Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, killing six U.S. soldiers and injuring several other U.S. and Afghan soldiers. The Taliban, which has been resurging lately, claimed responsibility for the attack. A suicide bomber had been riding the bike.
NYPD detective Joseph Lemm was among those killed. He was on his second deployment to Afghanistan with the National Guard, after previously serving in Iraq. The 45-year-old had been with the New York Police Department for 15 years. He, his wife, and their two children lived in Westchester County.
“Detective Joseph Lemm epitomized the selflessness we can only strive for: putting his country and city first,” police commissioner Bill Bratton said in a statement on Monday. Before heading to Afghanistan, Lemm worked on the Bronx warrant squad. According to the New York Daily News, he is the third NYPD officer who has died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Brigadier General Wilson A. Shoffner, an Army spokesperson in Afghanistan, said shortly after the attack, “We’re deeply saddened by this loss … our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of those affected in this tragic incident, especially during this holiday season.”
It was the deadliest attack for U.S. soldiers based in Afghanistan since 2012, per Slate.
According to the Washington Post, 14 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan this year, as of December 18. There are around 9,800 American troops and around 4,000 NATO troops left in Afghanistan; President Obama ordered the troop withdrawal to slow down in October. There will still be U.S. troops in the country when he leaves office. “In key areas of the country, the security situation is still very fragile, and in some areas, there is risk of deterioration,” the president said at the time. Shortly before that decision was announced, the Taliban took over a city for the first time since American troops arrived in Afghanistan more than a decade ago. The takeover was short-lived, but Afghan troops — which the remaining U.S. troops are trying to train and make self-sufficient — are still having difficulties fending off the Taliban. According to the AFP, “More than 4,000 Afghan soldiers and police were killed and over 8,000 wounded in the first half of the year, compared to 5,000 who lost their lives in the whole of 2014.”
The increasingly fractured and violent Taliban was partly a result of news getting out that the extremist group’s leader was dead this summer — plus the fact that some of its members are reportedly defecting to ISIS. The changing seasons haven’t done much to deter militants. According to the AP, “The expected winter lull in fighting has not yet taken place in the warmer southern provinces. U.S. and Afghan military leaders say they are expecting a hot winter, followed by a tough fight throughout 2016.”
The Financial Times adds that “Defense experts say the advance of the Taliban in areas such as Helmand underscores the limitations of the Afghan security forces, which suffers poor logistics and a lack of vital air power of their own.”
This month, the Taliban has attacked the airport in Kandahar, leaving dozens dead, and bombed the Spanish embassy compound in Kabul, killing a Spanish police officer. This week, Sangin, in the Helmand province, has reportedly been overrun by Taliban militants. The province’s deputy governor ended up sending a Facebook message to Afghan president Ashraf Ghani — saying that no other methods had worked. He said, per the Guardian, “I know that bringing up this issue on social media will make you very angry … But … Helmand stands on the brink. Ninety men have been killed in Gereshk and Sangin districts in the last two days.” On Monday, the governor of Helmand said in a press conference that the most important security buildings in Sangin were still controlled by Afghan police. Another official said, per the New York Times, “If the central government does not pay attention to the security situation in Helmand, the province will eventually fall.”
“The United States condemns this cowardly attack on members of the U.S. and Afghan forces, and we remain committed to supporting the Afghan people and their government,” the White House said in a statement after the attack. “We will continue to work together to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan, just as we will not relent in our mission to counter the threat of terrorism that plagues the region.”
The attack “serves as a painful reminder of the dangers our troops face every day in Afghanistan,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a statement on the deadly incident on Monday. “As I saw firsthand during my visit to Afghanistan last Friday, our troops are working diligently alongside our Afghan partners to build a brighter future for the Afghan people. Their dedicated efforts will continue despite this tragic event.”