US serviceman killed during hostage rescue mission

The special operations member was shot during an overnight raid conducted to liberate roughly 70 hostages held in Northern Iraq by the Islamic State, officials said. 

Iraqi security forces arrest suspects accused of being militants of the Islamic State group, at a refugee camp in Amiriyat al-Fallujah, a town south of Fallujah in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, June 18, 2015.

One member of a US special operations team was killed during an operation to rescue hostages held by Islamic State militants in northern Iraq, the first American killed in ground combat with the militant group, US officials said on Thursday. 

Around 70 hostages were successfully rescued during the operation, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.

US special operations forces were assisting Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces in rescuing hostages held at an Islamic State prison near Hawija, in northern Iraq, in a mission requested by the Kurdistan Regional Government, Cook said.

"Dozens" of US troops were involved in the mission, a US defense official said, declining to give further specifics on the number involved.

"It was a deliberately planned operation but it was also done with the knowledge that imminent action was needed to save the lives of these people," the US defense official said.

The US serviceman was shot during the mission and taken back to Erbil, where he died, the US defense official said.

He was the first US serviceman killed in ground combat operations against Islamic State, which has been the target of daily air strikes in Iraq and Syria by a U.S.-led coalition for more than a year.

Five US helicopters launched from Erbil were involved in the mission, and the United States was providing helicopter lift, intelligence support, air strike support, and advisory support to the peshmerga, the US defense official said. Air strikes were launched both before and after the mission to block approaches to the prison and destroy it afterward, the US defense official said.

Those rescued included 20 members of Iraqi security forces, Cook said in his statement.

Five Islamic State members were detained and are in Kurdish custody, and more than 10 were killed, the US defense official said.

A Reuters source in the Hawija area said the special forces raided a house where Islamic State commanders were gathering, triggering gun battles and blasts that lasted several hours.

Sheik Jaafar Mustafa, a senior commander of the Kurdish peshmerga forces, confirmed an operation had taken place but said he had no further information about it. In May, American special operations forces killed senior Islamic State leader Abu Sayyaf from Tunisia in a raid in Syria.

Hawija is a stronghold of Islamic State militants who have captured Kurdish peshmerga fighters in battles. 

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington and Isabel Coles in Erbil. 

Copyright 2015 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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