Officials identify first American soldier who died fighting Islamic State

The Department of Defense has identified the US soldier who died in Thursday's raid of an Islamic State facility as Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, a special operations soldier who helped free almost 70 hostages in his final mission.

US Army/Reuters/File
Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler, 39, of Roland, Oklahoma, posed for this undated handout photo provided by the US Army. Wheeler was killed in action Thursday in Kirkuk Province, Iraq, from wounds received by enemy small-arms fire during an operation in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Defense Department has identified the first US soldier to be killed in the battle against the Islamic State as 39-year-old Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler.

Master Sgt. Wheeler was killed Thursday in a joint US-Iraqi raid in Iraq’s Kirkuk province helping free 69 hostages. He is the first US serviceman to die in Iraq since combat operations ended in 2011, The Christian Science Monitor previously reported.

Wheeler died "from wounds received by enemy small-arms fire," in what was known as Operation Inherent Resolve, officials said in a statement Friday. Thursday’s predawn raid on the IS detention facility released dozens of prisoners who "faced imminent mass execution," Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said.

Wheeler had joined dozens of other special operations troops who were supporting Kurdish peshmerga soldiers, the Pentagon said. Four peshmerga fighters were also wounded.

The operation left several IS militants dead and five captured.

Wheeler, who was from Roland, Oklahoma, joined the Army in 1995 as an infantryman. He was later assigned to the Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg, North Carolina and deployed 11 times to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to official records.

His death comes at a time when Americans are more pessimistic than ever about the US military campaign against the terrorist group. Just 31 percent say that the fight against IS is going well for the US, according to a CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday.

This is compared to the 38 percent in May and 48 percent a year ago who had expressed confidence in the government’s efforts to combat the network in Syria and Iraq, CNN reported.

Polling from the Pew Research Center suggests that Americans don't oppose US military intervention in general, but that they are frustrated with the lack of progress. About 6 in 10 people said that they supported the campaign against IS, versus 30 percent who said they believed it was "going well," said a report published in late July.

As support for the campaign fell, President Obama’s approval ratings began slipping, too, with his administration’s handling of the IS singled out as the biggest source of voter disapproval, the Monitor reported. Almost 2 in 3 responded negatively when asked about the terrorist group, according to the CNN/ORC survey.

The shift comes as more people have expressed doubt about the government’s plan for dealing with IS, an organization that 9 in 10 Americans consider a serious threat to the country, CNN reports.

Now, a year into the conflict, the percentage of those skeptical about Mr. Obama’s strategy on IS has grown to 71 percent, up from the 66 percent who expressed doubts last year.

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