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2 US service members killed in Afghanistan

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. military says two of its service members were killed in Afghanistan on June 26, a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a quick visit to Kabul where he said Washington was hopeful of a peace deal “before September 1.”

A statement by the military did not provide any details surrounding the circumstances of the deaths, which bring the tally of U.S. service member fatalities in Afghanistan to at least six this year.

The statement also said the identities of the soldiers would not be released until their families had been notified.

The United States began a fresh push last September to bring the militant group to the negotiating table to end the nearly 18-year Afghan conflict — the longest war in U.S. history.

The U.S. envoy seeking a peace deal, Zalmay Khalilzad, has held six rounds of talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital, Doha.

The next round is scheduled to begin on June 29.

The talks are expected to focus on working out a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and on a Taliban guarantee that militants will not plot attacks from Afghan soil.

Before leaving Afghanistan for India, Pompeo on June 25 underscored Khalilzad’s strategy in the talks, which involves four interconnected issues: counterterrorism, the presence of foreign troops, inter-Afghan dialogue and a permanent cease-fire.

“All sides agree that finalizing a U.S.-Taliban understanding on terrorism and foreign troop presence will open the door to intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiation,” Pompeo said.

About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are deployed in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, which it calls a “U.S. puppet,” but has said it would talk with government officials if they attend the meetings as ordinary Afghans.