The Pentagon has identified the two soldiers, a Green Beret and an explosive ordnance disposal specialist, who died Tuesday in Afghanistan.
Master Sgt. Micheal B. Riley, 32, and Sgt. James G. Johnston, 24, died due to injuries sustained by small arms fire in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province.
Riley, from Heilbronn, Germany, was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Carson, Colorado. Johnston, from Trumansburg, New York, was assigned to the 79th Ordnance Battalion, 71st Ordnance Group at Fort Hood, Texas.
“Mike was an experienced Special Forces noncommissioned officer and the veteran of five previous deployments to Afghanistan,” Col. Lawrence G. Ferguson, the commander of the 10th Special Forces Group, said in a statement Thursday. “We will honor his service and sacrifice as we remain steadfast in our commitment to our mission.”
Riley’s awards include the Bronze Star and the Meritorious Service Medal. He first joined the Army in 2006.
“It is with a heavy heart that we mourn the passing of Sgt. James Johnston. 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, his battalion commander, said in a release Thursday.
Johnston enlisted in 2013, according to the release, and had received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
The Pentagon announced Wednesday that two service members were killed in Afghanistan, but did not disclose the names because of Defense Department policy that prevents names of those killed in action from being released until 24 hours after next of kin in notified.
The Taliban took responsibility for their deaths, the New York Times reported Wednesday, at a time when the U.S. is locked in peace talks with the extremist group.
In March, Taliban leaders and U.S. diplomats spent nearly two weeks working together in Qatar, coming with up two draft agreements on a withdrawal timeline for U.S. forces and “effective counterrorism measures," the Associated Press reported.
“The conditions for #peace have improved,” American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said in a statement. “It’s clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides.”
Likely next stops could include Africa, South America or Europe.
While the Taliban characterized the meetings as successful, a source told the AP that the militant group was hoping for a three- to five-month withdrawal period. The U.S. is reportedly looking at 18 months to two years.
“For now, both sides will deliberate over the achieved progress, share it with their respective leaderships and prepare for the upcoming meeting, the date of which shall be set by both negotiation teams,” according to the Taliban’s official statement.
American officials have pinned an agreement on a guarantee that the Taliban won’t allow terrorist groups to live and train in Afghanistan in preparation for an attack against the U.S., but the Taliban have only agreed to “a general promise,” AP reported.
The incident surrounding the deaths of Riley and Johnston is under investigation.
Nine troops have died in Afghanistan this year, seven in combat and two in a vehicle accident. Most recently, three Marines died April 8 in Parwan province. In March, another Green Beret and EOD tech, also from 10th Special Forces Group and 71st Ordnance Group, died in Kunduz province.
There were also two contractors killed in recent days.
Yali, first enlisted in the Navy in 2012 and served four deployments. He was in Afghanistan as an inactive reservist providing private security to American troops when he died on June 19 — less than three weeks after he first arrived in Afghanistan.
And retired Chief Warrant Officer Four Christian H. McCoy was killed Monday in Afghanistan, one year after hanging up the official service uniform he wore for 30-years in the U.S. military—most of it within the ranks of Army Special Forces, according to Newsweek.