WASHINGTON — ISIS fighters killed a Navy Seal who was working with Peshmerga forces in Iraq, administration officials confirmed today.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that President Obama “has been briefed on this incident and everyone here at the White House, including the First Family, extends our condolences to the family of the service member that was killed today in northern Iraq.”
“This individual was the third U.S. service member killed in action since the beginning of Operation Inherent Resolve and this service member’s death reminds us of the risks our brave men and women in uniform face every single day,” Earnest said.
He added that the Defense Department “indicated that initial reports are that this service member died when ISIL terrorists penetrated a checkpoint that was manned by Iraqi forces.”
“Those terrorists, after breaking through the line, went on to attack a Peshmerga position where this U.S. service member was advising our partners on the ground,” Earnest continued. “U.S. forces responded right away with air power to stop the attack and our Iraqi partners are engaging the remnants of those forces.”
When Defense Secretary Ashton Carter spoke to reporters earlier in Stuttgart, Germany, reports were just coming in to the Pentagon chief “that an American service member has been killed in Iraq, in the neighborhood of Erbil.”
“I don’t know much more than that, but I believe that much is true. And so our thoughts and prayers are with that service member’s family,” Carter said.
Details on the service member were not available pending notification of next of kin.
The attack took place about 18 miles north of Mosul.
ISIS’ Amaq news agency reported that a “martyrdom operation with rigged vehicle hits a Peshmerga base near the area of Ammar Bayt, southeast of the Mosul dam.”
ISIS controlled the dam for several weeks in summer 2014. Administration experts have warned that the dam faces “serious and unprecedented risk of catastrophic failure with little warning; a catastrophic breach of Iraq’s Mosul Dam would result in severe loss of life, mass population displacement, and destruction of the majority of the infrastructure within the path of the projected floodwave.”
Pressed on whether U.S. forces are closer to harm’s way than before, Earnest said “Iraq and Syria are dangerous places and our men and women in uniform, who are engaged in a mission to offer training, advice and assistance to Iraqi forces that are fighting for their own country, are doing dangerous work.”
“Today’s incident is a vivid reminder of the risks that our service members are taking, and some of them, three of them now, have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. But the president’s been clear time and time again exactly what their mission is. That mission is to support Iraqi forces on the ground who are taking the fight to ISIL on the front lines,” the press secretary added.
“Iraqi forces must fight for their own country. The United States cannot be a substitute for those Iraqi forces. The United States can use our military firepower, and some of our special operators, in fact, are offering them important support. But that support is — comes in the form of offering advice and assistance. And this is the core of our strategy, which is to build up the capacity of local forces to fight for their own country.”
Earnest said “important lessons” from the past decade have taught the administration that America “will not be successful if it’s U.S. troops acting, essentially as a substitute for local forces fighting for the security situation in Iraq.”
“Iraqi Security Forces must do that for themselves. They can count on the support of the United States, they can count on the support of the 65 nations that have signed onto to this coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. And this is a fight that the United States is committed to, because we understand the consequences for our national security,” he continued.
“But ultimately, it is Iraqi forces that are on the front lines, it’s Iraqi forces that must fight for the security situation in their own country.”