The two Army Rangers who died yesterday in Afghanistan willingly went into harm's way to fight the enemy and defend the United States and its freedoms, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement today.
"The families and fellow Rangers of Sgt. Joshua 'Josh' Rodgers and Sgt. Cameron Thomas have my respect and sympathies," Mattis said.
Rodgers, 22, of Bloomington, Illinois, and Thomas, 23, of Kettering, Ohio, were killed in Nangarhar province as a result of small-arms fire while engaged in dismounted operations, the Defense Department said in a statement.
"Fighting alongside their Afghan partners, Josh and Cameron proved themselves willing to go into danger and impose a brutal cost on enemies in their path," Mattis said.
"They carried out their operation against [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan] in Afghanistan before making the ultimate sacrifice to defend our nation and our freedoms," Mattis said. "Our nation owes them an irredeemable debt, and we give our deepest condolences to their families."
The soldiers, who were supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, were assigned to 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning, Georgia.
Raid Should 'Significantly Degrade ISIS-K'
About 50 U.S. Army Rangers and 40 Afghan commandos were inserted by helicopter into the Mohmand Valley about 10:30 p.m. local time April 26, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, the Pentagon's director of press operations, told reporters today. The location is near where the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb was dropped earlier this month, he said.
The two Rangers were mortally wounded at the start of an intense, three-hour firefight, Davis said. There is a possibility the Rangers were struck by friendly fire, and U.S. Forces Afghanistan is investigating that possibility, he added.
The operation targeted the leader of ISIS-K, Abdul Hasib, who is believed to have been killed in the raid, the captain told reporters.
"U.S. Special Operations forces killed several senior ISIS-K leaders along with about 35 ISIS operatives, which should significantly degrade ISIS-K operations and help to destroy the ISIS-K affiliate that's there," he said.
Those at the scene report close-quarters fighting and enemy fire coming at them from 360 degrees, Davis said, adding that U.S. strikes from the ground and the air were used in self-defense.
'Exemplary' Actions of U.S., Afghan Forces
"The performance of the Afghan Special Security Forces and our Army Rangers was exemplary," U.S. Forces Afghanistan officials said in a statement.
Operating in the most difficult terrain and under complex circumstances, the forces were able to accomplish their mission while protecting the women and children in the compound, the statement said.
ISIS-K, also known as the Khorasan group, is based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and is composed primarily of former members of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban, U.S. Forces Afghanistan officials said.
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)