Late last week, U.S. Special Operations Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga freed 70 hostages during a joint raid on Islamic State prison in Hawija, Iraq.
According to the U.S. Defense Department, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) requested assistance from the U.S. military after it received intelligence that indicated a group of 70 hostages were in imminent threat of execution.
Intelligence Recovered, 70 Freed
U.S. involvement in the operation was authorized by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, and the White House was informed of the plan. The Peshmerga “were going with or without us,” a U.S. defense official told The New York Times. “We wanted to stand behind an important ally.”
Defense officials say valuable intelligence on Islamic State operations was recovered and nearly 70 prisoners were recovered, though not the individuals U.S. and Kurdish forces expected to find.
U.S. Special Operations Forces have conducted operations against the Islamic State in Syria, as when they captured senior Islamic State figure Abu Sayyaf in May, but this is the first reported incident of U.S. forces participating in combat in Iraq.
One U.S. Soldier Killed
Special Forces Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler was killed in the attack, the first U.S. combat death in Iraq since 2011. Three Kurdish fighters were wounded.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook stressed that the raid does not prefigure a greater combat role for the United States. “This was a unique circumstance in which very close partners of the United States made a specific request for our assistance,” he said. “So I would not suggest that this is something that’s going to now happen on a regular basis.”