According to the Department of Defense the soldier who died Thursday in a raid on a prison complex in northern Iraq was a member of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command based at Fort Bragg. The official report on the incident says that 39 year old Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler died “from wounds received by enemy small-arms fire during an operation.”
He is the first to die in Operation Inherent Resolve, the joint effort of American and allied forces to weaken the hold of the so-called Islamic State fighters. Wheeler was the veteran of 14 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the target of the raid was a prison near the town of Hawija and that the raid was undertaken at the request of the Kurdish Regional Government. He also said U.S. special operations forces supported what he called an Iraqi peshmerga rescue operation.
The peshmerga are the Kurdish region’s organized militia. Dozens of U.S. special operations troops and Iraqi forces killed and captured quite a few militants and recovered what the Pentagon called valuable intelligence about the terrorist organization.
Cook said “This operation was deliberately planned and launched after receiving information that the hostages faced imminent mass execution,” adding later that it appeared the hostages faced death “perhaps within hours” and that freed hostages told authorities some had been killed at the prison recently, prior to the rescue.
U.S. combat troops have rarely participated directly in combat against IS fighters on the ground since the U.S. mission began in 2014. The U.S. has mostly limited its role to training and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces, airdropping humanitarian relief supplies and providing daily airstrikes in IS-held areas of Iraq and Syria.
Cook said it was a “unique” circumstance for the American military in Iraq, although he would not say that it was the only time U.S. forces have engaged in a form of ground combat in Iraq as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.
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