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Defense Secretary: Navy SEAL's Death 'a Kind of Circumstance We Regret' but Not Unexpected

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter addresses the press at U.S. European Command Headquarters on May 4, 2016. (DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee)

The Navy SEAL killed during a training mission with Peshmerga forces was “in a firefight and he died in combat” in the type of surprise ISIS attack “that happens,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters in Stuttgart, Germany, today.

The Defense Department identified the slain service member as Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Charles H. Keating IV, 31, of San Diego — grandson of financier Charles Keating of the 1980s savings and loan scandal.

“Our strategy is to — because we work not only to defeat ISIL, but to make sure they stay defeated, there has to be a local force that keeps the peace after the peace is secured, and that’s why our overall approach is to enable local forces to do the fighting, to take back,” Carter said.

“But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to do any fighting at all as a coalition,” he added. “This service member’s tragic loss — and there’s nothing I take more seriously as secretary of Defense than sending people into a situation where they have risks like this. And you — and I have to say, the whole country has to be grateful to this young man and his family for this sacrifice.”

“We are putting these people at risk every day. Every time a pilot goes up in an airplane above Syria or Iraq, they’re at risk. So, people need to understand every day that people are at risk, and tragically, losses will occur. But this is necessary in order to protect our country, defeat this enemy and — and eliminate what really is an evil movement. And not to do that would entail even greater risks for our population.”

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.”

Carter wouldn’t comment on reports that Keating was killed rescuing a small group of U.S. military advisers who came under attack from many more ISIS militants.

“The enemy was able to very covertly assemble enough force, which included the several truck bombs, some bulldozers, and of course their infantry. And they were available to punch through the Kurdish line there,” Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters from Baghdad today.

Keating went to the front line as part of the Quick Reaction Force to evacuate the advisers, an operation during which he suffered a small-arms fire wound that was “not survivable.”

All of the advisers survived and the Peshmerga along with coalition air support were able to push ISIS back.

“This American service member was operating with the Peshmerga forces to help do what we do so well, which is bring the great weight of our airpower, our expertise, our training, our equipment, our intelligence to make the Peshmerga, which is a very capable force, even more capable,” Carter said. “That part of the Peshmerga front came under attack. They didn’t know that attack was going to occur. That happens.”

Carter added that’s “a kind of circumstance we regret, but you can’t say it’s not a circumstance that cannot be expected in a circumstance where you have a dynamic battlefield, and we are participants in this.”

“And I just want to be clear that this young man found himself in combat and sacrificed for this campaign’s success accordingly… we need to understand that there is that risk in what we’re doing, but there — there would be greater risk not to engage in this campaign and defeat this enemy.”