Two US soldiers die in Iraqi security operation that kills 25 ISIS members
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq's Military Communications Center (MCC) announced on Monday that anti-terrorism forces, backed by the US-led coalition against ISIS, killed 25 members of the terrorist group in an extended combat operation south of the disputed district of Makhmour in Nineveh governorate.
“The anti-terrorism forces engaged with ISIS militants on late Sunday night until Monday morning with ongoing aerial cover strikes, resulting in the death of 25 members of ISIS and the destruction of nine tunnels and a military training camp used by the terrorist group,” the statement from Iraq's MCC read.
The US Department of Defense also announced the death of two American soldiers in the military operation.
“Two US service members were killed by enemy forces while advising and accompanying Iraqi Security Forces during a mission to eliminate an ISIS terrorist stronghold in a mountainous area of north-central Iraq, March 8,” explained a statement from Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), as the international coalition is formally known. The deaths marked the first US fatalities in combat in Iraq in nearly a year.
No information was provided by the MCC about casualties among Iraqi forces.
The Iraqi military statement also detailed where the fighting occurred: in Qarachugh Mountain, which lies south of Makhmour, and in Makhul Mountain, in Salahuddin governorate.
Iraqi forces destroyed a tunnel and killed three terrorists in Makhul Mountain, it said.
The MCC also stated that the most recent operation followed “after the successful military campaign against the so-called Islamic State’s sleeper cells in the Khanoka Mountains, which are located approximately 100 kilometers north of the city of Tikrit, near the Tigris River in late February.”
The latest military operation comes at a time, when the terrorist group has stepped up its attacks. Increasingly, the so-called Islamic State has engaged in kidnapping civilians from rural parts of the disputed territories and holding them for ransom, fueling security concerns among residents there.
These areas used to be under Peshmerga control, and ISIS was far less of a threat then, than it is now. However, in October 2017, Iraqi forces, in an operation orchestrated by Qasim Soleimani, then the head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, attacked Kurdish forces in Kirkuk and other disputed territories.
The Trump administration, which was still, at the time, following its predecessor’s policy of accommodating Iranian influence in Iraq, turned a blind eye to the assault, with the consequences that are apparent today.
It led to a break-down in cooperation between the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga. There is also now a “seam” between the two forces, creating space for the Islamic State.
Makhmour is located some 60 kilometers southwest of Erbil.The security void in areas between territory protected by Iraqi troops and that protected by Kurdish Peshmerga forces sometimes reaches as much as 20 kilometers in depth. The rugged, barren terrain which is common in such areas, has been a haven for Islamic State fighters, who use it as a base from which to plan and launch attacks in surrounding settlements and towns.
Editing by Laurie Mylroie