An American was killed in an operation involving the U.S. military to rescue dozens of hostages who “faced imminent mass execution” in Iraq, the Pentagon said Thursday.
Nearly 70 hostages, including more than 20 members of the Iraqi Security Forces, were liberated in the helicopter assault, which involved U.S. special operations troops as well as Kurdish and Iraqi forces, said U.S. officials.
“There was not a lot of time,” said an U.S. official.”The threat of execution was imminent.”
The firefight is the first time U.S. forces stepped into combat against ISIS in Iraq
The American troops were on an “advise-and-assist mission” and happened to step in after Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers came under fire, according to CNN.
A U.S. service member was intensely wounded during the rescue mission at a prison of the Islamist militant group near Hawija in the northern province of Kirkuk. This is the first American combat death in Iraq since November 2011, according to the Pentagon.
Four Peshmerga soldiers were wounded.
There were no Kurds among the hostages, the Kurdistan regional government said in a statement. The U.S. had claimed earlier that about 70 Kurdish hostages were rescued. More than 20 ISIS fighters were killed and six were captured, according to the statement, according to CNN.
Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of the U.S. Central Command stated:
“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. Our gratitude and heartfelt condolences go out to this young man’s family, his teammates and friends.”
The identities of the hostages and hostage-takers are not available just yet.
The operation came more than a month after Kurdish security forces stated that the Islamist militant group ISIS kidnapped dozens of men near Hawija.
The Kurds are an ethnic group with an autonomous region in northern Iraq. The Kurdish Peshmerga, the military force that protects this region, has been fighting ISIS, which captured parts of Iraq and Syria for what it calls its Islamic caliphate, according to CNN.