A US soldier has died during a raid on an Islamic State (IS) compound in northern Iraq while part of an operation to free prisoners.
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and US special operations forces stormed the IS prison near Hawija early on Thursday morning, capturing five militants and killing others.
“This operation was deliberately planned and launched after receiving information that the hostages faced imminent mass execution,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook. “It was authorised consistent with our counter-ISIL [IS] effort to train, advise, and assist Iraqi forces.”
According to the US military, 70 hostages were rescued in the operation, including more than 20 Iraqi soldiers; the Pentagon also said they recovered important intelligence about IS.
Four Peshmerga fighters were wounded, and a US service member became the first American soldier to die in ground combat against IS forces.
“On behalf of the men and women of the Department of Defence, we offer our sincere condolences to the family of the US service member who was killed in this operation,” Mr Cook said. “The US and our coalition will continue to work with our Iraqi partners to degrade and defeat ISIL, and return Iraq to the full control of its people.”
IS has held the area around the town of Hawija for more than a year, but this raid could be a precursor to a larger coalition assault. “We don’t know if there is a larger battle at hand to take Hawija from ISIL,” said Al-Jazeera reporter Rosalind Jordan. “This may have been a test run, or there is an idea that there was a mass execution looming is why the US provided support to Peshmerga.”
One Hawija resident claimed that IS’s leaders in the town had disappeared following the raid. “Their offices are closed and nobody knows where they went,” the anonymous source said.
“The group’s top Hawijah leader was detained and another senior leader too,” said another resident. “A number of them were killed and several of the people held in that prison were freed.”
The Kurds are Iraq’s largest ethnic minority, and have proven effective in battling IS forces on the ground. Kurdish Peshmerga forces currently control the province of Kirkuk, where Hawija is located. – Jake Nelson
Top photo is of a joint US-Iraqi training exercise near Ramadi in November 2009, from the US Army’s Flickr photostream.