Navy SEAL’s death signals more US forces in Iraq, Syria
BEIRUT - The third US combat death in Iraq since President Barack Obama unleashed American firepower on Islamic State (ISIS) in August 2014 could signal that more fatalities are to come in a war his administration did so much to avoid.
The gradual expansion of US troop numbers in Iraq and neighbouring Syria in recent weeks means that US troops are increasingly thrust in harm’s way, despite Obama’s oft-repeated pledge of “no boots on the ground”.
The primary mission for these forces will be to bolster a faltering and fumbling Iraqi offensive launched on March 24th against the northern city of Mosul, seized by ISIS in a lightning campaign in the summer of 2014.
The Kurdish peshmerga, who like their cousins in Syria are the most reliable fighters the Americans are backing, are leading the charge. US Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV was killed fighting alongside peshmerga fighters as they came under attack by a group of around 100 ISIS militants. He and fellow US troops were assisting the peshmerga in what US-led coalition spokesman Colonel Steve Warren called “a big fight, one of the largest we’ve seen recently.”
The day-long battle near Tal Asquf, north of Mosul, was a sobering reminder that ISIS is far from defeated and is still capable of mounting ferocious counter-attacks, using waves of suicide bombers in heavily armoured vehicles in the same way that US forces employ air strikes to blast a way through enemy positions.
US commanders and senior administration officials have been bragging for weeks that the 21-month-long air campaign led by the United States has inflicted immense damage and casualties on ISIS.
There have been claims of 25,000 ISIS fighters killed and the group’s infrastructure hammered into rubble, its flow of foreign volunteers cut from 2,000 a month to 200 (later emended to 500) in recent months. Intelligence officials, however, have warned otherwise.
The deployment of special operations forces in both countries and the US decision to send Apache attack helicopters to provide close air support for Iraqi troops mark a distinct escalation that is putting American fighters on the front line for the first time since the US withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011.