Two American soldiers have been killed and five more wounded during an operation in northern Iraq. Though the military has said they were taking part in “combat operations,” initial reports said the deaths were not from “enemy contact.”
The troops were taking part in operations against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
“The entire counter-ISIS Coalition sends our deepest condolences to these heroes’ families, friends and teammates,” Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, said in a statement.
“I hope there is some small solace in knowing their loss has meaning for our country and all the nations of the Coalition as the fallen service members were fighting to defeat a truly evil enemy and to protect our homelands.”
The US Special Envoy for the anti-IS coalition, Brett McGurk, expressed his sorrow for the loss of the two unidentified soldiers.
“Remember Americans serving on front lines against ISIS terrorists. Two died today in northern Iraq,” he tweeted. “We honor and mourn their loss.”
IS claimed responsibility for the deaths of the two soldiers, saying in an online statement that their fighters fired Grad rockets on American troops east of Tal Afar, a town west of Mosul still under the militant’s control. The authenticity of the statement could not be confirmed.
Mosul itself, once the seat of the Islamist group’s so-called caliphate, was liberated by Iraqi forces in July after eight months of fighting, supported by US-led coalition airstrikes as well as Kurdish and Shiite militias. Although residents celebrated the extremists being chased out of the city, many of their neighborhoods lay in ruins while thousands of civilians had been killed and over 1 million people displaced.
The US has over 5,000 troops in Iraq involved in the campaign against Islamic State. While the majority stay on heavily-fortified bases carrying out logistics or advisory roles, some have found themselves on the front lines. As well as the two soldiers killed Sunday, five more Americans have been killed in the fight against IS, including two in the battle of Mosul.
In July, a top US commander in Iraq stated that the US troops and coalition forces may stay in Iraq even after Islamic State terrorists are totally defeated. He added that the troop levels are not going to be changed in the near future.