First US soldier is killed in firefight with Isil
An American soldier has been killed in an operation to rescue Kurdish hostages being held by Islamic State jihadists in Iraq, according to US officials.
The US Special Forces soldier, whose identity has not yet been disclosed, was killed during a night-time raid by US special forces on an outpost of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) that released approximately 70 Kurdish prisoners.
This would be the first US combat fatality on the ground in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The Pentagon confirmed the raid targeted a makeshift Isil prison near the town of Hawijah, south west of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, after US and Kurdish forces received reports that the hostages "faced imminent mass execution".
Five Isil militants were also captured and several others killed according to the reports.
"It was authorised consistent with our counter-Isil effort to train, advise and assist Iraqi forces," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.
Iraqi intelligence sources said that the raid had lasted approximately two hours, from 2.30am to 4.30am, and was a collaborative effort between the US special operations forces and Kurdish peshmerga troops, both the US and the Kurdish regional government confirmed.
The American special forces were reportedly flown in on military helicopters. The operation was preceded by air strikes by the US-led coalition against Isil targets on the road to the prison.
The Kurdistan region's security council said yesterday an initial evaluation showed there were no Kurds among 69 hostages freed in the operation in Hawija, which is a majority Sunni town.
Twenty of those released were reportedly members of the Iraqi military.
The raiders killed and captured a number of militants and recovered what the Pentagon called a trove of valuable intelligence about the terrorist organisation.
The US service member who died was not publicly identified pending notification of relatives. Officials said this was the first American combat death in Iraq since the US began its counter-IS military campaign in August 2014.
The peshmerga are the Kurdish region's organised militia.
The circumstances in which the US soldier was killed were unclear, but one official said the American had been shot in a firefight at the scene. Cook said the service member was wounded during the mission and died after receiving medical care, adding that four Peshmerga soldiers were wounded.
Another US defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide other initial details, said the US role in the rescue mission was mainly limited to four areas: transporting Iraqi soldiers to the scene in five US special operations helicopters; providing airstrikes before and after the mission; advising Kurdish fighters and Iraqi security forces; and providing the Iraqis with intelligence for the operation.
US combat troops have rarely, if ever, participated directly in combat against IS fighters on the ground since the US mission began in 2014. The US has mostly limited its role to training and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces and providing daily airstrikes in IS-held areas of Iraq.
The US defence official said the number of IS members killed was not to be made public immediately, but that it was more than 10.
Cook said that of the approximately 70 prisoners freed, more than 20 were members of the Iraqi security forces. He did not say who the others were.