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.
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