WASHINGTON: The Pentagon on Friday said it was investigating whether two US special operations commandos who were killed in Afghanistan this week had been struck by friendly fire.
Army Ranger sergeants Joshua Rodgers and Cameron Thomas died in a raid overnight Wednesday-Thursday as they helped attack a headquarters compound of the Islamic State group in eastern Nangarhar province.
"We are investigating the circumstances of the combat deaths of the two Army Rangers in the beginning of what was an intense three-hour firefight," Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said.
"It is possible the Rangers were struck by friendly fire."
A formal probe was underway to determine whether the bullets came from US, Afghan or jihadist gunfire. Another US commando was wounded in the raid.
Davis said about 50 US special forces and 40 Afghan commandos had been choppered in to the Mohmand Valley late Wednesday near the compound used by Abdul Hasib, whom the Pentagon called the IS leader in Afghanistan.
That local jihadist group is affiliated with IS in Iraq and Syria, and the US military calls it Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K.
"Within a few minutes of landing, our combined force came under intense fire from multiple directions and well-prepared fighting positions," US Forces-Afghanistan said in a statement.
"Nevertheless, our forces successfully closed on the enemy, killed several high-level ISIS-K leaders and upwards of 35 fighters."
The compound was located near the tunnel complex where the US military on April 13 unleashed the "Mother Of All Bombs" -- a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast device that the Pentagon said was the biggest non-nuclear weapon it had ever used in combat.
Davis said officials suspected Hasib was killed in Wednesday's raid, but it had not been confirmed.
The Pentagon estimates that about 1,000 IS fighters remain in Afghanistan.
The jihadists established a foothold there in early 2015 and their numbers now are about half what they were at their peak.
"If confirmed, the death of the emir (Hasib) and his associates will significantly degrade ISIS-K operations in Afghanistan and help reach our goal of destroying them in 2017," US-Forces Afghanistan said.