The Pentagon has released the identities of a Green Beret and a former Ranger turned cryptologic linguist killed in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, on Saturday.
Sgt. 1st Class Javier J. Gutierrez and Sgt. 1st Class Antonio R. Rodriguez were killed in an apparent insider attack – one that early reports indicate may not have been affiliated with the Taliban.
Both men were 28 years old and assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, out of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, according to Lt. Col. Loren Bymer, an Army Special Operations Command spokesman.
Both soldiers were posthumously promoted to sergeant 1st class and awarded Bronze Star medals and Purple Hearts.
Their deaths bring the number of U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan this year to four. Two paratroopers were also killed by a roadside bomb in January. Seventeen American combat casualties in Afghanistan in 2019 made it the worst year since 2014.
“Our priority now is to take care of his family and teammates, we will provide the best possible care possible during these trying times," said Col. John W. Sannes, 7th Group commander, in a prepared statement.
Gutierrez was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina, on Aug. 12, 1991. He enlisted in the Army in 2009 as an infantryman and was first assigned to Fort Bragg’s 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He deployed once to Iraq as a paratrooper with the unit.
He attended Special Forces Assessment and Selection in 2012 and graduated in 2015 as a Special Forces communications sergeant and reported to 7th Group. This was his first deployment to Afghanistan.
“Sgt. 1st Class Gutierrez’ was a warrior that exemplified selfless service and a commitment to the mission, both values that we embody here in the 7th Special Forces Group,” Sannes said in his statement. “Sgt. 1st Class Rodriguez was selfless and served honorably; he was certainly among the best in our unit."
Rodriguez was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on July 26, 1991. He graduated from high school in the spring of 2009 and enlisted in the Army the following October. Rodriguez completed one station unit training at Fort Benning, Georgia, followed by jump school and the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program.
He was first assigned to 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, also based out of Fort Benning.
Rodriguez deployed eight times as a Ranger, according to the release. In 2018, he re-classified as a cryptologic linguist with Spanish as his chosen language. He went on to deploy twice with 7th Group.
Six other U.S. personnel were wounded in the attack that took the lives of Rodriguez and Gutierrez. The attack came after a key leader engagement at the Sherzad district center in Nangarhar province.
However, the incident may not have been one backed by the Taliban.
An anonymous Afghan defense ministry official told the Associated Press that the shooter was an Afghan soldier who had argued with U.S. troops before opening fire. That Afghan official said the attacker was not a Taliban infiltrator.
“Upon completing a key-leader engagement at the district center, current reports indicate an individual in an Afghan uniform opened fire on the combined U.S. and Afghan force with a machine gun,” Army Col. Sonny Leggett, spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, wrote in an emailed statement.
“We are still collecting information and the cause or motive behind the attack is unknown at this time. The incident is under investigation,” he added.
Nangarhar province has long been a bastion for the Islamic State’s Afghanistan-based franchise. The ISIS-aligned militants there have been battled back by both American and Taliban forces in recent years.
Peace talks with the Taliban are ongoing, but they have been hamstrung by ongoing violence.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he wants “demonstrable evidence” that the Taliban can carry through on their promise to reduce violence in the country, according to the Associated Press.
There are roughly 13,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said the Pentagon may reduce the American footprint in the country to 8,600 independent of any deal with the Taliban.
Military Times editor Howard Altman and reporter Shawn Snow contributed to this story.