KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Four American soldiers under Canadian command have been killed in southern Afghanistan, the first U.S. troops killed by enemy action there in the new year.
The IED strike occurred Sunday in the volatile Zhari district of Kandahar province.
Military officials confirmed the deaths of the four Americans, who were honoured Monday during a ramp ceremony at Kandahar Airfield.
Unlike the rules governing Canadian ramp ceremonies, U.S. Defence Dept. regulations prohibit journalists from covering the solemn rituals.
“I can confirm that four ISAF soldiers from the U.S. have died in an IED (strike),” Lt.-Col. Todd Breasseale, a joint task force spokesman, said in Kabul.
Sources told The Canadian Press the four were members of the 1st Battalion of the 12th Infantry Regiment based in Fort Carson, Colo.
The Taliban, meanwhile, claimed to have killed 11 U.S. soldiers and wounded six others Sunday, saying the incident happened in Panjwaii district south of Zhari.
A statement from Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi said the Americans were on foot patrol and that the area came under “massive air strikes” by the U.S. forces following the blast. The statement could not immediately be verified.
About 2,000 American soldiers have been brought under the command of Canadian Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard.
They are integral to Menard’s plans to subdue an active insurgency in Zhari, northwest of Kandahar city, and the neighbouring Arghandab district, a key Taliban staging area that sits just north of the city.
The deaths came on the same day the bodies of four Canadian soldiers and a journalist arrived back in Canada.
Sgt. George Miok, Sgt. Kirk Taylor, Cpl. Zachery McCormack and Pte. Garrett Chidley died along with Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang were killed Dec. 30 in an insurgent IED strike on the southern outskirts of Kandahar.
Menard has set his sights on subduing the insurgency both in the city and in areas immediately around it.
The American forces are a crucial part of that strategy, lending muscle to the thinly stretched Canadian forces.
Sunday’s tragedy involving the Americans was the third such fatal incident since Menard formally took command of the U.S. forces in Zhari and Arghandab less than a month ago.
Both districts, north of the life-sustaining Arghandab River, are key Taliban staging and transit points into Kandahar city — and fertile ground for insurgents to attack coalition forces and civilian convoys on the all-important Highway 1.
Zhari, according to the district’s leader, has been firmly in the grip of insurgents. Eight Canadians died there last year.
The British also suffered their first casualty of the new year Sunday when a member of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment stepped on an explosive in Helmand province, NATO said.