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U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan was supporting the Army’s new adviser brigade

The U.S. soldier killed in an insider attack in Afghanistan on Saturday was deployed in support of a new U.S. Army adviser brigade dispatched as part of the Trump administration’s strategy for the war, U.S. military officials said.

Cpl. Joseph Maciel was deployed with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade and mortally wounded at Tarin Kowt airfield in Uruzgan province, said Army Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, a military spokesman in Kabul. The brigade’s soldiers were deployed early this year to provide training and advising to Afghan soldiers and police, and are distributed throughout the country.

Maciel was a member of the Army 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, according to a statement from U.S. military headquarters in Kabul. He deployed in February to provide security for the brigade’s military advisers, and was from South Gate, Calif. Maciel’s death marks the first for a soldier deployed with the adviser brigade.

Two other U.S. soldiers were wounded in the attack, O’Donnell said. They are listed in stable condition, but no additional details about the extent of their injuries were released. O’Donnell declined to release additional details about the attack, citing an open investigation.

The ambush will inject new stress on the U.S. military’s plans to place conventional military advisers from the brigade in closer proximity to Afghan troops than the Pentagon has done in years.

Conventional U.S. troops and Afghan forces once worked and patrolled together regularly, but that was curtailed as the Obama administration cut the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from more than 100,000 in 2010 and 2011 to fewer than 9,000 in 2016.

After a lengthy review, President Trump announced last August that he had decided to reshape the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, loosening restrictions on airstrikes while also boosting the number of U.S. service members deployed by a few thousand soldiers.

Part of that strategy included sending the adviser brigade, commonly known as the SFAB. The unit, established last year, deployed with about 800 advisers and about an additional 300 soldiers, including Maciel.

Many other units have advised local forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations, but the SFAB was planned as a unit that would be more prepared to coordinate directly with local units than combat units have been in the past. The advisers, before deploying, attended an academy at Fort Benning, Ga., that focuses on developing rapport with Afghan soldiers, communicating effectively through an interpreter and learning foreign languages.

The brigade’s commander, Col. Scott Jackson, told reporters June 13 that none of his soldiers had come under fire in the first three months of the unit’s deployment, and that the soldiers they were training had all undergone vetting to make sure they did not pose a threat.

“I will tell you honestly, we have had our Afghan partners come to us with intelligence that preempted potential attacks, and they have been proactively taking care of their own problems,” Jackson said.

He added: “They understand, culturally and, honestly, militarily, the value of our safety,” he said. “It’s ingrained in their hospitality — in their culture of protecting their guests. And we are viewed as guests in their organization.”

The death marks the third U.S. combat death in Afghanistan this year. It also marks the first time a U.S. service member has been killed in an insider attack since June 2017. In August 2017, a Romanian soldier was wounded in another insider attack.

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