Loss of US Service Member in Syria Ends Deadliest Month of ISIS Fight

In this picture taken on Thursday, March 29, 2018, U.S. troop's humvee passes vehicles of fighters from the U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council on a road leading to the tense front line with Turkish-backed fighters, at Halawanji village, north of Manbij town, Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
In this picture taken on Thursday, March 29, 2018, U.S. troop's humvee passes vehicles of fighters from the U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council on a road leading to the tense front line with Turkish-backed fighters, at Halawanji village, north of Manbij town, Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

A U.S. service member was reportedly one of two killed Thursday in an improvised explosive device attack in Syria.

The incident, which left five more coalition members wounded, comes at the close of what is by far the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria since the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria began in 2014.

Few details are available so far about the most recent attack, which happened around 9 p.m. local time, according to an announcement from Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. The identities of the personnel killed by the IED have not been released, nor has the service branch of the U.S. service member been made known.

The tragedy brings the total for U.S. military deaths in support of the ISIS fight to eight for the month of March. To date, 59 U.S. troops have died supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, according to Defense Department data; 13 have been identified as killed in action, and 46 have died in non-combat incidents.

On March 15, seven airmen from three Air Force rescue units were killed in western Iraq when their HH-60 Pave Hawk crashed in what has been described as a non-combat incident. It was reportedly the first fatal helicopter crash in Iraq or Syria since the fight began, and underscores the risks deployed troops continue to face as Operation Inherent Resolve enters its fifth year.

The ISIS campaign, which has been fought with a limited number of U.S. troops in country supporting and advising local ground forces, has yielded relatively few American casualties compared with other recent wars. Until this month, the deadliest month for U.S. troops had been August 2017, with four service member deaths. Operation Inherent Resolve formally began in April 2014.

The fight, waged through airstrikes and assaults on population centers controlled by ISIS, has been costly in other ways, however.

According to an updated assessment released Wednesday by Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, an estimated 855 local civilians have been killed by coalition strikes since the fight began, and 522 civilian casualty reports remain open and under investigation.

The estimate comes as officials say the presence of ISIS extremists, who have devastated towns and murdered thousands in their push to establish a caliphate, has been dramatically diminished.

In December, task force spokesman Army Col. Ryan Dillon told Military.com that only 1,000 ISIS fighters remained in Iraq and Syria, down from a previous estimate of 3,000.

Earlier that month, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over ISIS in Iraq, saying all strongholds had been wiped out.

During a visit to Anbar province, Iraq, just before Christmas, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Marines deployed there that they had played a role in that historic accomplishment.

"You're part of history now, because you were in Iraq when ISIS was defeated, tactically," he said. " ... You have been catastrophically successful. The way this thing has turned in the last year is pretty epic. So, you should be proud of what you've done and what you've contributed to."

In a statement Wednesday, task force officials said ISIS holdings in both countries had nearly been eradicated.

"The Coalition and our partners have liberated over 98 percent of the area formerly controlled by Daesh, and have liberated 7.7 million Iraqis and Syrians once held under brutal Daesh rule," officials said. "However, much work still needs to be done to ensure the lasting defeat of the terrorist, criminal organization."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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