A U.S. service member was killed Tuesday morning in northwestern Iraq by an ISIS attack while assisting Kurdish Peshmerga forces north of the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, marking the third combat death for U.S. troops since the campaign against ISIS began in 2014, the Pentagon said.
The American was a Navy SEAL who was killed in a firefight after attackers broke through the front lines, CNN reported. The U.S. military responded with F-15 and drone strikes, dropping more than 50 bombs, the network reported.
"The casualty occurred during an ISIL attack on a Peshmerga position approximately three to five kilometers behind the forward line of troops," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook, using another acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, said in a statement.
The name of the casualty was withheld until the family could be notified.
"This sad news is a reminder of the dangers our men and women in uniform face every day in the ongoing fight to destroy ISIL and end the threat the group poses to the United States and the rest of the world," said Cook while he was traveling in Europe with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who is seeking more help from allies in the campaign against ISIS.
"Our coalition will honor this sacrifice by dealing ISIL a lasting defeat," Cook said.
The death of the service member was the third in combat against ISIS to be confirmed by the military, and the second to occur while U.S. trainers and advisers were working with the Kurds in northern Iraq.
The initial Pentagon statement was unclear on whether the service member was killed by an ISIS ground attack that penetrated Kurdish lines, or by indirect fire from rockets or artillery.
The Kudish news agency Rudaw reported that "fierce fighting raged between the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Islamic State militants on the northern Iraqi town of Tel Skuf Tuesday afternoon, where 400 ISIS fighters were reportedly fighting and a US serviceman was reported killed."
"Islamic State militants staged three suicide attacks on Peshmerga defense lines and the Kurds fought back, military officials told a Rudaw correspondent on the Nawaran frontline," Rudaw said.
The first U.S. combat death was that of Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler, of Sequoyah County, Oklahoma, who was killed last October while coming to the aid of Kurdish forces in a raid on an ISIS prison in northern Iraq that freed about 70 hostages.
In March, Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin, 27, of Temacula, California, and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was killed by ISIS rocket fire at a Marine fire base near Makhmour that was set up to support a staging area for Iraqi Security Forces gathering for a Mosul offensive.
The official count for U.S. forces in Iraq now stands at about 4,200, though the number can reach 5,000 due to overlaps in troop rotations and temporary assignments. The primary purpose of the troops is to train, advise and assist local forces, but Carter has acknowledged that they can become engaged in combat.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.