The Pentagon said today that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made the call to send U.S. forces on the deadly hostage rescue mission under the “support role” to Kurdish forces in Operation Inherent Resolve.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the U.S. Special Forces operation to rescue hostages from an ISIS prison near Hawija, Iraq, was launched at the request of the Kurdistan regional government.
“This operation was deliberately planned and launched after receiving information that the hostages faced imminent mass execution. It was authorized consistent with our counter-ISIL effort to train, advise and assist Iraqi forces,” Cook said. “The U.S. provided helicopter lift and accompanied Iraqi Peshmerga forces to the compound. Approximately 70 hostages were rescued, including more than 20 members of the Iraqi security forces.”
Cook said five ISIS fighters were detained by the Iraqis and “a number” were killed. One U.S. service member was wounded and “subsequently died after receiving medical care.” Four Peshmerga were wounded.
He said they were still “reviewing” the mix of rescued hostages, some civilians but no Kurds.
Asked if any hostages were killed, Cook said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
ISIS released their own version of events, claiming “cowardly Crusaders had to kill some of the prisoners and they took others with them, none of them being from the apostate Peshmergas, then they retreat, followed by another round of airstrikes on the prison and the remaining prisoners, killing most of them, counted in tens in this cheap, cowardly operation.”
“The operation resulted in the killing of a Crusader and left many of them injured, leaving some of their material on the scene, while 3 of the brothers guarding the prison attained martyrdom, 3 others have been injured then given medical care.”
ISIS said the 2 a.m. assault included four Chinooks and two Apaches. They claimed that six fighters guarding the prison engaged in a two-hour firefight with the coalition forces.
Asked if U.S. forces participating in the assault on the prison violated the support mandate under Operation Inherent Resolve, Cook replied, “In that support role, they are allowed to defend themselves, and also defend partner forces, and to protect against the loss of innocent life. And that’s what played out in this — in this particular operation.”
He wouldn’t confirm or deny the number of helicopters involved or how many troops.
“This was a unique circumstance in which very close partners of the United States made a specific request for our assistance. And there was a deliberate process to analyze this situation and the circumstances, and that’s when the decision was made to move forward with this operation,” Cook said.
“So I would not suggest that this is something that’s going to now happen on a regular basis, but I do think it is symbolic of the kinds of efforts that we are taking on behalf of our partners, and the steps that we’re willing to take in conjunction with our coalition partners in trying to address ISIL and the threat ISIL poses not only to us, but to our partner members as well.”
Carter, Cook said, “exercised his authority and approved this mission, and the White House’s national security team was notified of this.”
“Secretary Carter made this decision, knowing, again, the potential risk to U.S. forces. He did so because, again, of the larger fight against ISIL. A partner was asking for U.S. participation, and, in that regard, he felt it was the appropriate step to take, given the circumstances involved in this particular situation… 70 people have had their lives saved as a result of this operation.”
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said “under that architecture” of Obama’s anti-ISIS blueprint “consistent with the appropriate legal authorities” is “where the secretary of Defense would authorize operations of this type.”