American soldier killed by 'indirect fire' near Isis stronghold of Mosul in IraqSaturday 19 March 2016 16.11 EDT
An American service member who was part of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State, also referred to as Isis, was killed on Saturday in northern Iraq, according to an American defense official.
A US official said the soldier was stationed at the Makhmour base outside the Isis-held city of Mosul. The attack was an “indirect fire attack,” specifically rockets, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to brief the media.
The Marine, who was providing force protection fire, died in the rocket attack at a base near Makhmur, a town between the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said.
Cook did not identify the Marine who had been killed. He said several other Marines had been wounded and were being treated for injuries. A US defense official said two rockets had been fired. One did not cause any damage. Two Iraqi commanders stationed at the base also reported a rocket attack Saturday, but denied anyone had been hurt or killed.
The US-led coalition reports that as Iraqi troops have built up at Makhmour in preparation for an assault on Mosul, the frequency of indirect fire attacks there has increased.
An earlier statement put out by the US military said the service member died as a result of “enemy action”.
It was the second combat death of an American service member in Iraq since the start of the campaign to fight Isis. In October, Master Sgt Joshua Wheeler, 39, of Roland, Oklahoma, became the first American to die in combat in Iraq since 2011, when he was killed during an overnight mission to rescue hostages held by Isis militants.
Earlier this year US Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that a new force of special operations troops had arrived in Iraq and was preparing to work with Iraqi forces to go after Islamic State targets.
While that force was expected to number only about 200, its deployment marked the latest expansion of US military pressure on in Syria, air strikes on the northern city of Raqqa on Saturday killed at least 39 people and wounded many others, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It was not immediately clear what country’s warplanes carried out the airstrikes: the Syrian regime, Russia, and the US, Jordan and their coalition allies have been carrying out strikes on Syria, albeit prioritizing different targets.
An anti-Isis activist group, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, said the airstrikes were by Russian warplanes, adding that they have killed 43 civilians and wounded about 50 others.
A third opposition monitoring group, the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) said the air raids were carried out by Syrian government warplanes.
The three groups said the air raids struck near the national hospital, a former army base and other neighborhoods.
Russia has been conducting air raids in Syria since 30 September, even though Russia this week drew down its military presence in Syria after Vladimir Putin ordered a partial pullout of Russian aircraft and forces from Syria, in support of indirect peace talks in Geneva.
On Thursday, Putin said Moscow would keep enough forces in Syria to continue the fight against Isis, the Nusra Front and other extremist organizations.
Isis, which occupies Raqqa as a de facto capital, is not included in the truce that was brokered by Russia and the US that went into effect on 27 February, and led to a drop of violence in Syria. The air raids come at a time when Isis has lost large swaths of territory in northern Syria, including in Raqqa province, in battles with the US-backed predominantly Kurdish Syria Democratic Forces.
To the south, Syrian troops are on the offensive in an attempt to capture the ancient town of Palmyra, which has been under Isis control since May.
The Observatory and the LCC reported airstrikes on the town that is home to some of the world’s most precious archaeological sites. Several of those sites have already been damaged or destroyed by the extremists. The Observatory said seven Isis fighters were killed in the airstrikes on Palmyra on Saturday.
Isis, which in June 2014 declared a caliphate in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq, has been under pressure in Iraq as well over the past few months. The United States estimates that as of February, Isis fields 19,000 to 25,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria down from an estimated 20,000 to 31,500 frontline fighters a number that was based on intelligence reports from May to August 2014.
A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the estimates, said the decrease reflects the combined effects of battlefield deaths, desertions, internal disciplinary actions, recruiting shortfalls and difficulties that foreign fighters face traveling to Syria.
Syria’s five-year civil war has killed more than 250,000 and displaced half the country’s population.