US Special Forces, Kurdish troops raid Islamic State prison in Iraq

The Department of Defense announced today that US Special Forces and Kurdish forces launched an air assault against an Islamic State-run prison near Hawijah in central Iraq. One US soldier was killed during the raid, which the military insists was not a combat operation, but part of its “advise and assist” mission. From the Department of Defense press release:

U.S. Special Forces supported an Iraqi peshmerga operation earlier today to rescue about 70 hostages from an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant prison near Hawijah, Iraq, Defense Department Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters at the Pentagon this afternoon.

American Special Forces personnel carried out the planned operation at the request of the Kurdistan regional government after learning through intelligence sources that the hostages faced imminent mass execution, Cook said.

The Special Forces mission was consistent with Operation Inherent Resolve’s counter-ISIL efforts to train, advise, and assist Iraqi forces, he emphasized.

One U.S. service member and four peshmerga soldiers were wounded when ISIL extremists fired on U.S. and Iraqi forces during the rescue, he said, adding the U.S. service member was medically treated but later died.

The recovered hostages were placed with the Kurdistan Regional government, Cook said, adding that no hostages died during the rescue to his knowledge.

“The U.S. provided helicopter lift and accompanied Iraqi peshmerga forces to the compound,” where ISIL held the hostages, Cook said. While it appears more than 20 hostages were Iraqi security forces’ members and the remaining hostages were Iraqi civilians, that review remains under way.

“Five ISIL terrorists were detained by the Iraqis and a number of ISIL terrorists were killed,” he said. “In addition, the U.S. recovered important intelligence about ISIL.”

The Daily Beast’s Nancy Yousef has more on the raid and the Pentagon’s refusal to describe the raid as a combat mission. Additionally, US officials do not seem to know what the importance of the target was:

Even after the raid, Pentagon officials, who once insisted there were no American boots on the ground, continued to call the U.S. effort a “train, advise and assist” mission, not a combat one. It marked the latest game of military semantics in a war defined as much by its messaging as by its tactical results.

At a briefing with reporters, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the U.S. military was “not in an active combat mission” in Iraq. Cook repeatedly called the raid “unique” but refused to say whether the U.S. military had conducted similar mission before this one or whether anyone in the Iraqi government had asked for similar help in the past.

Rather he said Secretary of Defense Ash Carter approved putting U.S. troops in harm’s way because the Kurdish forces asked for raid and because both Kurdish and U.S. forces believed hostages had recently been killed; more could die within hours, they feared.
The U.S. military was not sure who it was rescuing, Cook said. In a statement, Kurdish officials said there were no Kurds among those rescued; they seem surprised and suggested that Iraqis had been rescued, instead.

According The Daily Beast, “dozens of troops from the U.S. Army’s elite Delta Force” were involved in the operation. If true, the military’s claim that the Special Forces troops were not engaged in a combat mission is implausible. Delta operators are highly trained door-kickers and not military advisers.

US special operations forces have conducted at least one other operation in the Iraq-Syria theater this year. In May, US personnel killed an Islamic State military and financial leader known as Abu Sayyaf and captured his wife, Umm Sayyaf, during a raid at the Al Omar oil field in Deir al Zour province in eastern Syria. An estimated 19 Islamic State fighters were also killed during the mission.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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21 Comments

  • Jim says:

    Don’t forget about the failed James Foley rescue op

    • Naive says:

      “Don’t forget about the failed James Foley rescue op”

      There never should have been a James Foley rescue op. He was a naive Islamist sympathizer/activist who traveled to Syria in support of terrorists – and found out the hard way that his only value to them was as a headless corpse. I honestly wonder if he figured it was all a ruse – right up until the blade actually touched his neck.

  • James says:

    We need to critically review this operation. Why put our soldiers lives (or even the Kurdish Peshmerga) at risk to save a bunch of Iraqis that throw their hands up to surrender seemingly at every opportunity? If anything, to do so only encourages them to display similar conduct in the future.

    Something about this story smells really fishy to me.

    • Guy says:

      Most likely they had intelligence there was an HVT present and tried/did capture him. There is just no way that Delta would participate unless the payoff was big; rescuing 70 Kurds is merely a nice bonus.

  • wawa says:

    Hi, I think Delta force to advise on CT activities, not only in their own country but to other partner nations and during wars as well. Most likely they are backup to help out in case the Kurds face overwhelming gunfire.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    I think the Americans thought that there were some western hostages (John Cantile and others) due to some intelligence, but when they reached there, they found Iraqis instead, but still rescued them. That’s the only thing I could think of why they did a raid on this ISIS prison.

    • m3fd2002 says:

      @Birbal Dhar
      I agree with your assessment.

      • Rock says:

        That makes sense. I suspect that they disclosed this operation, because they were concerned video from the Kurds or Isis would disclose it. I don’t think the loss of a soldier would be enough to warrant disclosing it. They could of simply claimed he died in a training accident somewhere else, kinda like, I suspect happens when we lose a plane over Syria or Iraq, we claim that a air crash happened somewhere else: like in Germany, England or the India Ocean. I can think of at least five air crashes involving US planes that have happened elsewhere besides in Syria or Iraq in the last year or so, but oddly they have ties to the middle east. The planes were on carriers on the way to the middle east or they were flying from the middle east to somewhere else. But air crashes never happen in Syria or Iraq, though we are flying tons of missions there in harms way. Seems hard to believe.

    • Dannyboy666 says:

      I believe the same , BD, some very grateful people in what might be a failed attempt.

    • TRM says:

      Don’t think of John Cantile as a hostage. Think of him as an ISIS collaborator–an Emir Haw-Haw.

  • Jobel says:

    I don’t understand why U.S. soldiers were involved in this op in such numbers. If all they got for their trouble was some locals and a few Iraqis, what was the point? This reeks of bad intel and of senior officers too eager to spend the lives of their men on the advice of the Kurds.

    • Guy says:

      It’s simple: most of Delta’s operations are SCI information. That is, it’s on a need to know basis and highly controlled. The general public and most in government will never know 99% of what Delta does and the same goes for this operation.

  • Michael says:

    Outstanding,the Kurds are our real allies,and friends

  • David Roberts says:

    From what I’ve read, Delta Force personnel are very highly trained in hostage rescue situations, so raiding a fixed target like this would be right up their alley. They make their own plans at field level, and therefore it’s not surprising that the Pentagon knows little about the details.

  • beerpatzer says:

    I’ve noticed other inconsistencies (almost all of my sources are from Reuters reports):

    1. Islamic State twitted that the Peshmerga took dozens of casualties during this raid.
    2. The Kurdish source told Reuters that only 2 rescuers died during the raid and they were members of the local Iraqi army.
    3. The Iraqi Ministry of Defence in Baghdad said that hey learned about the raid from the media reports and that no Iraqi troops participated in it.
    4. When the Kurdish source was asked why the Americans got involved in the firefight, he replied that the Peshmerga were surprised by the defenders and started taking heavy casualties and Americans had to assist them.
    5. Other report states that there no resistance in from the guards, but the rescuers came under fire from a building several hundred meters away and Americans responded by storming it.

    There’s also the question about the people rescued. Apparently none of them were Kurds, which raises the question as to the motives. Apparently many of them were people whom the Islamic State considered as traitors, and some of them might have been even American spies.

  • Lint says:

    If you’ve seen the body-cam video obtained from the operation, it is clear that US troops were actively leading the mission.

  • Fahad says:

    Seems to me it’s a raid that went all wrong. Else we would have seen Mr Obama congratulating the americans in his televised address making noise and rubbing republican noses in this election period..

  • Paul says:

    Glad it was a success.

  • McClatchy has a detailed account from Kurdish sources.

    //www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/middle-east/article41188878.html

    It does appear that the hostages were not what the Kurds/U.S. expected. As far as the “advisory vs. combat” role, remember that Delta played an “advisory” and “training” role in the hunt for Pablo Escobar. As in that mission, I doubt the Delta guys were merely spectating.

  • Guy says:

    There is a helmet cam video out (can’t find the link) from what I assume is a Kurd. While searching the ISIL compound that was raided, American voices can be very clearly heard at different points, which I find pretty interesting. Obviously, they weren’t simply advising or “taking cover behind a wall” as the SecDef said; they were directly taking part in an operation that they planned and led.

    Let’s call combat what it is: combat.

  • Ramu says:

    Happens all the time! Remember the Son Tay prison raid, North Vietnam, 1970?

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis