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American Special Forces Soldier Is Killed in Afghanistan

In November, two soldiers were killed when their helicopter crashed in Logar Province while providing air support for American troops below. It is unclear if enemy fire caused the crash, though initial statements from the American command seemed to indicate otherwise.

And this month, the Taliban launched a daring dawn attack on Bagram Air Base, the largest American base in Afghanistan. No Americans were killed, but the gunmen held out in a hospital just yards away from the base’s confines before airstrikes ended the nearly 12-hour standoff.

There are 12,000 to 13,000 American troops in Afghanistan, though Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper has said that the number might drop to 8,600 absent any agreement with the Taliban. The White House had initially planned to start withdrawing troops as part of the nearly announced deal with the Taliban in September.

“We have a mission in Afghanistan,” Mr. Esper said during a news conference on Friday at the Pentagon. “So, until we are confident that mission is complete, we will retain a presence to do that.”

The United States’ strategy in Afghanistan has changed little in the past year, and is rarely mentioned by either the Pentagon or the American-led mission in the country. As it stands, General Miller has marshaled what resources he has at his disposal to aggressively attack the Taliban, along with the Islamic State offshoot in the country, backed by thousands of airstrikes and hundreds of Afghan and American Special Operations missions.

But the conventional Afghan military is largely in a defensive posture, holding what territory it can and focusing on securing the major roads that connect Afghanistan’s larger cities to one another.

More than 50,000 Afghan security forces have been killed since 2014. And though Afghan casualties have waned in recent months, American military officials said, they are still deeply troubling if the Afghans are to keep fighting, especially should the Americans withdraw.

Mujib Mashal contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Najim Rahim from Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.

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