2 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan after vehicle is hit by roadside bomb

The Taliban immediately took responsibility for the attack. Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said it occurred in the southern Kandahar province.

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By The Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two U.S. service members were killed and two others injured when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said in a statement Saturday.

The Taliban immediately took responsibility for the attack. Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said it occurred in the southern Kandahar province.

In keeping with defense department rules, the U.S. military did not identify the service members. The city of Aurora, Illinois identified one of the victims as Miguel Villalon, 21, as a resident and a former student at East Aurora High School.

“Our prayers and condolences are with the Villalon family during this tragic time,” said Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin, a veteran of the United States Army.

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"Miguel was a young soldier with dreams for the future and a desire to make a difference in the world today...Sadly, Miguel made the ultimate sacrifice as he protected our freedom from the front lines. The City of Lights shines much dimmer because of this loss."

More than 2,400 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan. Last year was one of the deadliest for the United States, with 23 American troops killed, even as Washington engaged in peace talks with the Taliban.

The latest attack seemed certain to stall fresh efforts to restart the on-again, off-again peace talks between Washington and the Taliban.

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been pressing the insurgents to declare a cease-fire or at least reduce violent attacks. That would give a window in which the U.S. and the Taliban could then forge an agreement to withdraw all of America's troops. That agreement would also set out a roadmap for direct Afghan-to-Afghan talks, mapping out the country's post-war future.

Earlier, both NATO and Afghan officials had confirmed a roadside bomb hit a U.S. army vehicle Saturday, without mentioning casualties. In a short statement, a NATO spokesman said that officials were still “assessing the situation and will provide more information as it became available.”

An Afghan official said the attack had taken place in the Dand district of Kandahar province. The official was not authorized to speak with media and requested anonymity.

The Taliban now control or hold sway over roughly half of Afghanistan. The militants continue to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, even as they hold peace talks with the U.S. Scores of Afghan civilians are also killed in the crossfire or by roadside bombs planted by militants.

In November, two U.S. service members were killed when their helicopter crashed in eastern Logar province. The U.S. military at the time said preliminary reports did not indicate it was caused by enemy fire, though the Taliban claimed to have shot down the helicopter — a claim the U.S military dismissed as false.

U.S. Ambassador John Bass left Kabul last week, ending his two-year tenure as America’s top diplomat.

Austin Mullen contributed.