2 US soldiers killed in Afghanistan as Pompeo promises troop reduction by 2020 election

PHOTO: In this photo taken on June 6, 2019, US soldiers look out over hillsides during a visit of the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan General Scott Miller at the Afghan National Army (ANA) checkpoint in Nerkh district of Wardak province.PlayThomas Watkins/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH 2 US service members killed in Afghanistan

Two U.S. Army soldiers were killed in an apparent insider attack in Afghanistan on Monday, according to the Pentagon.

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The soldiers were identified by the Pentagon on Tuesday as Pfc. Brandon Jay Kreischer, 20, of Stryker, Ohio and Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance, 24, of Chicago, Illinois.

With their deaths, 14 American troops have now been killed in the country in 2019, even as the U.S. engages the Taliban in peace talks to wind down the U.S. war.

The attack comes on the same day that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said President Donald Trump has ordered a reduction in U.S. troops before the 2020 election.

The two soldiers were paratroopers assigned to 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Pentagon said they died as a result of wounds sustained during a combat related incident in Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan Province.

"It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of the loss of two Paratroopers from the Brigade during combat operations," Col. Arthur Sellers, the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division said in a webpost on Monday. "I ask you to respect the official Department of Defense notification process, a process which may take a few days. If you receive any information about these combat operations, either factual or speculative, I ask you to refrain from sharing it for the sake of the Paratroopers’ loved ones."

PHOTO: In this photo taken on June 6, 2019, US soldiers look out over hillsides during a visit of the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan General Scott Miller at the Afghan National Army (ANA) checkpoint in Nerkh district of Wardak province. Thomas Watkins/AFP/Getty Images
In this photo taken on June 6, 2019, US soldiers look out over hillsides during a visit of the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan General Scott Miller at the Afghan National Army (ANA) checkpoint in Nerkh district of Wardak province.

An Afghan security source told ABC News that an Afghan army soldier opened fire inside Tanajoh military camp in the Shahwali Koot district of Kandahar province in the south. The attacker was killed in return fire, the source said.

In a statement, the Taliban said an "unidentified Afghan soldier fired his gun ... killing two U.S. soldiers and wounding three."

The violence followed a deadly day on Sunday, when a suicide bomber attacked the offices of President Ashraf Ghani's running mate and former chief of intelligence. At least 20 people were killed and about 50 were wounded.

The U.S. is about to start its eighth round of negotiations with the militant group in Qatar shortly, as the Trump administration moves to draw down the American military presence in Afghanistan nearly 18 years after the U.S. first invaded.

PHOTO: Afghan security forces inspect the aftermath of Sundays attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 29, 2019. Rahmat Gul/AP Photo
Afghan security forces inspect the aftermath of Sunday's attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 29, 2019.

Pompeo said Trump had directed him to reduce U.S. troops before the 2020 presidential election.

"He's been unambiguous: end the endless wars. Draw down. Reduce," Pompeo said Monday in Washington, adding with a smile, "It's not only my expectation. It would be job enhancing."

Chief U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad said earlier this month those talks had made substantial progress, in particular on a timetable for U.S. withdrawal and getting a Taliban commitment to preventing Afghanistan from becoming a terror safe haven.

But critics, including some senior Afghan government officials, say the peace process has been dangerously flawed by keeping the Afghan government out of the talks so far. Other critics have questioned how the Taliban can commit to rooting out terrorism or why the U.S. would trust the group's commitment, with details of any agreement so far still tightly held.

Khalilzad said on Sunday that talks between Taliban and Afghan government representatives would take place once the U.S. and Taliban reached an agreement. But the Taliban, which refuses to meet with the government because it calls it a U.S. puppet, will be meeting not one-on-one with government leaders, but a "national negotiating team," Khalilzad said.