By Michael Kaplan @michaeld_kaplan email@example.com on October 22 2015 9:18 AM EDT
A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter launches mortar shells towards Zummar, controlled by Islamic State (IS), near Mosul in Iraq Sept. 15, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
UPDATE: 12:03 p.m. EDT: U.S. military officials have confirmed that a U.S. Special Operations team assisted Iraqi forces in an operation Thursday that resulted in the freedom of some 70 hostages being held by the Islamic State group. One American soldier died in the raid near Hawija, Iraq.
“We commend and congratulate the brave individuals who participated in this successful operation that saved many lives, and we deeply mourn the loss of one of our own who died while supporting his Iraqi comrades engaged in a tough fight,” General Lloyd J. Austin III, a U.S. Central Commander, said in a statement.
The hostages rescued, including 20 members of the Iraqi Security Forces, faced imminent mass execution, according to a separate statement released by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook. Five ISIS militants were detained by Iraqi forces, and a number were killed in clashes. Four Peshmerga soldiers were wounded during the operation.
At least one U.S. soldier was killed and some 70 Kurdish hostages rescued Thursday, after American and Kurdish commandos raided an Islamic State group outpost near the Iraqi town of Hawija, various media outlets reported. American military officials declined to comment on details of the operation, the New York Times reported, but Iraqi officials said the operation included joint airstrikes on militant posts and American commandos on the ground in an attempt to free Kurdish fighters who were taken hostage.
The objective was a prison run by the militants in a village east of Hawija, a northern Iraqi town, according to Iraqi officials. Kurdish forces led the operation, and were reportedly able to capture ISIS militants. Two senior U.S. officials confirmed the operation.
“They cut off roads and raided the place successfully,” one of the Iraqi officials who confirmed the raid, Najmaldin Karim, told the New York Times in a telephone interview. “They were able to take people with them.”
U.S. Soldier Is Killed in Raid to Free Prisoners of ISIS in Iraq
By MICHAEL R. GORDONOCT. 22, 2015
BAGHDAD — An American soldier was fatally wounded on Thursday as American and Kurdish commandos raided an Islamic State prison in northern Iraq after learning that the prisoners faced imminent mass execution, the Pentagon said. The commando became the first American soldier killed in action in Iraq since the withdrawal in 2011.
The raid, near the town of Hawija, freed 70 prisoners, including Kurds and more than 20 Iraqi security forces, the Pentagon said in a statement. Five Islamic State fighters were detained and several killed, and American officials said important intelligence about the terrorist group was recovered.
Some details of the classified operation remained unclear. But as described by Iraqi officials in the area, the mission appeared to be a significant joint strike against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, at a time when Iraqi and American officials are trying to mount a wider counteroffensive against the militants.
Fears that the prisoners were in danger may have been reinforced by the militants’ actions in recent days. An Iraqi in the Hawija area, who asked not to be named because he feared retribution from the Islamic State, said this week that the militants had recently executed 11 young men who were the sons or relatives of police officers or other Iraqi forces. He said their bodies had been hanged on a nearby bridge.
American and Iraqi officials said the raid involved American helicopters, Kurdish and American Special Operations forces, and airstrikes. The commando who was killed was not identified pending notification of his family. Four Kurdish soldiers were wounded as well, officials said.
American officials said American helicopters flew the commandos to the site. Kurdish special forces were said to have been in the lead, but American commandos were also on the ground. American jets carried out airstrikes to cut the roads leading to the site.
“They cut off roads and raided the place successfully,” one of the Iraqi officials who confirmed the raid, Najmaldin Karim, the governor of the surrounding Kirkuk Province, said in a telephone interview. “They were able to take people with them.”
The State of the War Against ISIS
The United States, Iraq and their allies are engaging the Islamic State on multiple fronts in an attempt to weaken the militants' defenses.
Iraqi forces and
Shiite militias, aided
by U.S. airstrikes,
retook the Baiji oil
refinery on Friday.
The U.S. is arming
Syrian Arab fighters
who will join Kurdish
Iraqi forces have encircled
Ramadi, which is defended
by 600 to 1,000 militants.
The operation comes as Iraq and the American-led coalition have been trying to regain the initiative against the Islamic State and stepping up the pressure against the militants in Ramadi, Baiji and other areas in Iraq, and in Syria. Hawija is under the control of the Islamic State and has been an important flash point in recent weeks.
While American commando operations have taken place in Syria, none had previously been confirmed to have happened within Iraq.
The mission appears to have been the most significant American Special Operations raid against the Islamic State since commandos swooped in on the home of a top Islamic State financier, a man known as Abu Sayyaf, in eastern Syria in May, killing him and capturing a trove of laptop computers and other information, according to American officials.
The slain soldier was the first American killed since military operations by the United States-led coalition against the Islamic State began in September 2014, but soldiers from other coalition nations have also been killed. A Canadian soldier was killed in northern Iraq in March in a friendly-fire incident involving Kurdish troops. And a Jordanian pilot was burned alive this year by the Islamic State after his plane crashed in Syria in December.
Falih Hassan contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Eric Schmitt from Washington