Islamic State militants killed a U.S. Navy SEAL in northern Iraq on Tuesday after blasting through Kurdish defenses and overrunning a town in the biggest offensive in the area for months, officials said.
The elite serviceman was the third American to be killed in direct combat since a U.S.-led coalition launched a campaign in 2014 to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State and is a measure of its deepening involvement in the conflict.
It is a combat death, of course, and a very sad loss,
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters during a trip to Germany.
A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the dead serviceman was a Navy SEAL. The SEALs are considered to be among the most able U.S. special operations forces and capable of taking on dangerous missions.
A senior official within the Kurdish peshmerga forces facing Islamic State in northern Iraq said the man had been killed near the town of Tel Asqof, around 28 kilometers (17 miles) from the militant stronghold of Mosul.
The Islamic State insurgents occupied the town at dawn on Tuesday but were driven out later in the day by the peshmerga. A U.S. military official said the coalition had helped the peshmerga by conducting more than 20 air strikes with F-15 jets and drones.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Navy Seal was killed “by direct fire” while on a mission to advise and assist local forces in Iraq.
Carter’s spokesman, Peter Cook, said the incident took place during an Islamic State attack on a peshmerga position some 3-5 km behind the forward line.