A video obtained by NBC News shows snippets of the joint Kurdish-U.S. operation to free about 70 hostages who were being held by Islamic State.
The recording does not show Delta Force Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, who died while assisting his team in extricating the hostages.
In the beginning of the footage, a group of soldiers darts out of a building, weapons drawn, as gunfire and beams from flashlights illuminate the area. A steady stream of pops — possibly small-arms fire — rings out while a few other soldiers stand near the entrance, weapons drawn. Dozens of barefoot hostages dressed in gowns, some stained in what looks to be blood, emerge from inside the building.
The men hold their hands up to show they’re unarmed, looking up in terror as soldiers usher them out to safety. Some cover their ears and appear disoriented, stumbling as commands to “keep moving” are issued in Arabic.
The walls are pocked with bullet holes, and a fire appears to be burning on the other side of a cast-iron window by the entrance. Debris and broken bricks litter the ground.
It is not clear what the nationality is of the soldiers, who are well-equipped with rifles, advanced optics and other supplies.
Later in the footage, eight soldiers can be seen inside the building. What sounds like American voices can be heard. The soldiers weave through a room that has an ISIS flag affixed to the wall and furniture in it. One soldier climbs on a couch to get to the door.
They appear to be engaged in room-clearing operations, tactics used when entering a building where hostile forces are likely to be encountered. As the camera quickly pans over their faces, the video reveals that several soldiers have what appear to be roster numbers on the sides of their helmets and upper arms — standard operating procedure in many parts of the U.S. Special Operations community.
The camera then shows an adjacent hallway lined with closed, heavy steel doors with padlocks. The glass on the mirror in the hallway, as well as a TV or computer monitor screen, are intact, suggesting there were no explosives or gunfire in this portion of the building.
Ten or 11 shots are fired off-camera, causing the soldiers to stop in their tracks momentarily. They don’t appear to be panicked.
Much is not shown in the footage, including the moment when Wheeler, the highly decorated American commando from the top secret Delta Force, was shot.
Two things. Accounts of the engagement seemed to suggest that Wheeler was the only American involved in the action. This does not appear to be the case as there were several American voices heard during the video. I always thought the idea that Americans would never be in combat as promised by President Obama to be absurd. This is a war with poorly drawn front lines and if Americans are training combat troops, they’re going to be put in harm’s way.
Second, the professionalism and courage of the commandos are otherworldly. The advance and withdrawal was reminiscent of choreography — smooth, unhurried, every man obviously knowing his job and doing it brilliantly. The fact that they are doing this under fire says a lot about their training, dedication, and courage.