Almost two weeks after several U.S. Special Operations troops were wounded fighting Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan, the militant group’s media arm has posted photos of American equipment, including weapons and a radio that, they say, were captured from U.S. soldiers fighting in the same region.
In an emailed statement Tuesday, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, the deputy chief of staff for the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan, confirmed that equipment was lost during recent operations in the country’s restive Nangahar province. Cleveland said the equipment was lost when moving to what is called a “casualty collection point” from one area to another. A casualty collection point is often predesignated on the map prior to any mission. In this case, Cleveland said, the initial collection point came under “effective” fire, forcing the U.S. unit to move to a more covered position.
“In the course of moving the [collection point] to a safe location, some equipment was left behind,” Cleveland said. “For understandable reasons, the lives of soldiers were not put at risk to recover the equipment prior to the scheduled exfiltration from the area at the already planned conclusion of the operation.”
It is common when treating casualties in a combat zone that the patient’s gear and equipment is stripped off to ensure that there are no hidden injuries. This usually results in a plethora of equipment being scattered around the casualty and can sometimes be problematic to recover when under enemy fire. In this case, Cleveland declined to discuss specific injuries from the operation.
Last month the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson, told reporters that five U.S. Special Operations soldiers were wounded alongside their Afghan counterparts during “clearing operations” against Islamic State militants in Nangahar. Over the course of a week, the soldiers received wounds from gunfire and shrapnel, he said.
On Saturday, the Islamic State’s Amaq media agency posted pictures of the American equipment including the identification, or CAC card, of a U.S. soldier.
Cleveland said the soldier had not been captured and is currently with his unit.
“The loss of equipment is regrettable, but no equipment is worth undue risk to those involved,” Cleveland said. “And we do not expect any measurable operational impact due to the loss.”
The pictured equipment includes what appears to be a 66mm single-shot rocket launcher, 40mm grenades, medium machine gun ammunition, multiple rucksacks, including two smaller assault packs, a sandbag, a handheld radio, pin flares, knee pads, a body armor carrier, a kit bag, a spare machine gun barrel, multiple rifle magazines, notebooks, medical equipment and goggles.
The U.S. military has been operating in eastern Afghanistan for years, and while some of the equipment could have been captured from a recent operation, it is also possible some of it might have been left behind or captured in the past and pulled into the picture for added propaganda value.
The type of equipment, along with an additional list of gear that is also pictured in the cache, indicates that at least some of the radio batteries, ammunition and kit likely belonged to a Special Operations unit. The list, partially handwritten and featured in one of the photos, has what appears to be a breakdown of the serialized equipment carried by a U.S. soldier, although it is unclear if the equipment belongs to the soldier whose ID was also captured.
The list includes a pair of nonstandard night vision goggles, a Mk. 48 medium machine gun and an FN SCAR, or Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle. The SCAR is a futuristic rifle that is billed as a highly modifiable weapon and comes in a number of variants that can be used in both close-quarters combat and long-range engagements. The SCAR, while in use by a number of Special Operations units, is a favorite of the 75th Ranger Regiment, a unit that has operated in Nangahar for some time. Last year, two soldiers from the regiment’s 1st Battalion were awarded Silver Stars for their actions in the province in 2014.
Also in the picture, and on the list of equipment, is a PRC-148 MBITR radio. The small black device is a favorite of ground troops and is often used for interteam communication and, when equipped with the right antenna, can be used to talk to overhead aircraft. Like most American radios, the PRC-148 allows for encrypted communication, and the presence of one in the Islamic State’s hands simply means U.S. forces in the region likely had to refill their radios with new encryption keys to prevent ISIS fighters from listening in.
From the picture, the Islamic State appears not to have captured any rifles or night vision equipment. Although the assorted explosives will likely find their way into local bazaars or improvised explosive devices, the haul bolsters the group’s visibility more than adding any real operational capabilities.
In January, President Obama granted additional authorities to U.S. troops in Afghanistan to target the Islamic State, along with the other terrorist groups the United States has systematically targeted in the country since 2001. When U.S. strikes began against Islamic State fighters, their numbers were estimated to be around 3,000 and they controlled a cluster of villages in Nangahar. In the past six months, that number has been halved, Nicholson recently told reporters, and the group’s offshoot in the country is steadily losing ground.
This story was updated Tuesday with new reporting and comments from Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland.