White House and Pentagon officials are holding to the narrative that Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler died when he alone rushed into a firefight to help Kurdish forces, even as new details surface that Delta Force was directly involved in the rescue mission.
Wheeler, a 20-year Army veteran with 14 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, was part of a Delta Force troop that had been training Kurdish commandos in hostage-rescue techniques.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has maintained that U.S. forces were on the ground in Iraq only to advise and assist Kurdish forces on the Oct. 22 night raid on a prison run by militants affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
On Tuesday, Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Wheeler was "killed in combat" but he was not supposed to be in a direct-combat role.
"Obviously, he was accompanying those forces, but when he saw they were running into trouble, he very heroically acted in a way that all of the reports suggest and spelled the difference between the success and failure of that important mission," Carter said.
The White House is standing by this narrative as well.
"We'd defer to DoD for the 'tick-tock' of the operation," a White House official told Military.com on background Tuesday.
A trusted U.S. military source gave Military.com the following of details surrounding Wheeler's death:
Just before the raid began, Wheeler and his Delta Force assault team had moved to the last covered and concealed position outside the ISIS compound, alongside Kurdish forces.
When the green light was given, the Delta elements and Kurdish forces simultaneously rushed forward and breached the compound at multiple entry points with explosive charges.
The blasts ripped openings into the compound, and gunfire erupted. Wheeler was shot seconds later and died while receiving medical treatment.
Four Kurdish Peshmerga assaulters were wounded and 20 ISIS fighters were killed in the violent gunfight.
Within minutes, assault teams were freeing prisoners as gunfire continued.
"In a hostage rescue, it's going really quick," the source said. "Once the breach is made, that's it. It's game on; you don't look back. You are just running to get to the hostages."
Video footage, released by the Kurdistan Regional Government, shows American and Kurdish forces freeing 70 hostages that were held by ISIS militants near the town of Hawija, about 30 miles south of Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk. In a news report, a Pentagon official confirmed its authenticity to CNN.
Just before the raid, Delta assault elements abandoned the initial plan to remain at the last covered and concealed position and let Kurdish forces take the camp alone.
"The guys on the ground have the ultimate say," the source said.
Wheeler entered the U.S. Army in May 1995 and trained as an infantryman. He was first assigned to 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, at Fort Lewis, Washington.
In 1997, he transitioned to 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Fort Lewis, where he served for more than seven years as an infantryman, rifle team leader, squad leader, weapons squad leader and anti-tank section leader, deploying three times in support of combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Army.
From there, Wheeler's special operations career led him to 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. He participated in 11 more combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
-- Bryant Jordan contributed to this report.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.