US Army spokesperson Colonel Steve Warren has confirmed the identity of the soldier killed in Thursday’s operation which freed 69 prisoners held by Islamic State, who were said to be in danger of imminent execution.
Special operations commando Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler, 39, of Roland, Oklahoma was killed by small arms fire during the operation in which the US military was providing support to the Peshmerga. He was injured at the scene, and died later at hospital in Erbil.
In an official statement, the KRG said, “We express our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the USA service member we lost in this operation and we are grateful to the counterterrorism professionals for their bravery and to the Global Coalition for providing support to this operation We are proud of the combined forces who conducted the mission to rescue these Iraqi hostages.”
It was the first time US soldiers have been involved in combat operations since the withdraw in December 2011. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said that although the operation is unlikely to be a one-off, it does not signify the start of a wider-scale ‘boots on the ground’ policy.
“Our mission in Iraq is the train, advise and assist mission. When we find opportunities to do things that will effectively prosecute the campaign, we’re going to do that.”
The identities of the rescued has not yet been confirmed, although it is thought around 20 members of the Iraqi security forces were amongst them. The Kurdistan Region Security Council said in a statement on Thursday that no Kurds were among the released.