WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Friday that he expected more raids targeting the Islamic State group similar to the mission in northern Iraq that freed dozens of captives but left an American soldier dead.
Carter’s comments came as President Barack Obama tapped veteran Iraq expert Brett McGurk to coordinate the troubled US-led campaign against the Islamic State group, replacing General John Allen, who served in the post for a year.
On Thursday, US forces and Kurdish forces stormed an IS-run prison near Hawijah in northern Iraq, freeing some 70 captives who were facing imminent execution. Five IS militants were captured and several others killed, the Pentagon said.
The Hawijah raid marked an apparent break with the usual role of US forces, who are in Iraq to support government forces but do not directly engage in combat in line with Obama’s “no boots on the ground” policy.
But Carter said it was likely not a one-off, noting that a “significant cache” of intelligence had been retrieved.
“I expect we’ll do more of this kind of thing,” Carter told reporters, referring to the operation.
“One of the reasons for that is that you learn a great deal because you collect the documentation, you collect various electronic equipment and so forth… So the sum of all this will be some valuable intelligence.”
The soldier killed, Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler of Oklahoma, was the first American serviceman to die in action in Iraq since 2011.
Carter said some of the captives rescued confirmed they had expected to be executed that day, with their graves already dug.
“Not only did our support help provide another mass killing, we enabled those partners of ours to deliver ISIL a clear defeat,” he said.
New US envoy for anti-IS campaign
The operation near Hawijah was part of a broader US-led campaign that began in June of last year targeting the Islamic State group, which has sought to carve an Islamic caliphate out of large parts of Iraq and Syria.
The disparate 64-member coalition has sometimes struggled, with the White House reluctant to dramatically gear up US involvement and key members of the coalition holding divergent aims and differing degrees of commitment.
The task has only become more complex since Russia and Iran have intervened to prop up the Syrian government and deepen ties with Baghdad.
McGurk had most recently been Allen’s deputy, focusing largely on efforts to work with Sunni tribal leaders and the Iraqi government to take back Ramadi.