Navy SEAL’s death signals more US forces in Iraq, Syria

Sunday 08/05/2016
Iraqi Kurdish female fighters aiming their weapons

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.