An American soldier was killed Thursday in a raid by U.S. and Kurdish commandos on an Islamic State base in northern Iraq after receiving word that hostages captured by the militant group faced imminent mass execution, the Pentagon confirmed.
The service member was wounded in the operation, and subsequently died after receiving medical care, the Pentagon said. Four Kurdish Peshmerga fighters were wounded in the raid that resulted in the rescue of about 70 hostages and the capture of Islamic State fighters, the Pentagon said. A “significant number” of Islamic State fighters were also killed, Peter Cook, the Pentagon spokesman, told reporters.
A statement from the Kurdistan Regional Government said 69 hostages were freed. It put the number of Peshmerga injured at three. The hostages included 22 Iraqi security forces and a number of civilians. Cook said their identities are unclear.
The soldier became the first American service member killed in action in the country since the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. Cook declined to say whether this was the first time U.S. forces were involved in fighting on the ground in Iraq since the withdrawal. He said this operation was unique, adding the U.S. role was restricted to training, advising, and assistance missions.
In a statement earlier, Cook said U.S. Special Operations Forces took part in the raid to rescue hostages at a Islamic State prison near Hawijah, Kirkuk province, following a request from the KRG.
“This operation was deliberately planned and launched after receiving information that the hostages faced imminent mass execution,” the statement said. “It was authorized consistent with our counter-ISIL effort to train, advise, and assist Iraqi forces.”
The U.S. provided helicopter lift and accompanied Iraqi Peshmerga forces to the compound. Approximately 70 hostages were rescued including more than 20 members of the Iraqi Security Forces. Five ISIL terrorists were detained by the Iraqis and a number of ISIL terrorists were killed as well. In addition, the U.S. recovered important intelligence about ISIL.
U.S. troops entered the compound as part of the mission, Cook said. He said the operation was approved by Defense Secretary Ash Carter after a request from the KRG.