Two members of a Marine Special Operations team were killed Sunday in northern Iraq while conducting an operation with Iraqi forces against Islamic State fighters hiding in a cave complex.
The operation, which occurred in the mountains south of Erbil, resulted in an additional mission to rescue the bodies, which took nearly six hours. The identities are being withheld while family members are notified.
“The forces trekked through mountainous terrain and eliminated four hostile ISIS fighters who were barricaded in the caves,” Colonel Myles B. Caggins III, a spokesman for the American-led mission in Iraq and Syria, said.
The Iraqi military said that the larger operation resulted in at least 25 ISIS fighters killed, and the destruction of nine tunnels and a terrorist training camp.
The U.S. causalities are the first of 2020 in Iraq. The last soldier killed in Iraq was Marine Gunnery Sergeant Scott A. Koppenhafer, also a member of the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), known as Marine Raiders. Koppenhafer died during a mission in Iraq’s Nineveh province in August.
In October, the U.S. withdrew the majority of its forces from northern Syria and repositioned roughly 700 of them in Iraq, with a focus on limiting the resurgence of ISIS. “[One objective] is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-ISIS mission as we sort through the next steps,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said on the shift.
U.S. special forces then conducted a daring night raid from Iraq to kill ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib.
“Baghdadi’s demise demonstrates America’s relentless pursuit of terrorist leaders, and our commitment to the enduring and total defeat of ISIS,” President Trump said following the news.