Saturday, October 24, 2015

Resurrecting American Pride in Derring-Do?

"[Wheeler] ran to the sound of the guns, and he stood up. [During that maneuver,Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler, 39, of Roland, Oklahoma was critically wounded].  All the indications are it was his actions and that of one of his teammates that protected those who were involved in breaching the compound and made … the mission successful,"
"When we find opportunities to do things that will effectively prosecute the campaign, we’re going to do that. And this is an example of a case where we could do something we alone had the capability to do, and I’m absolutely prepared to do that."
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter
Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler, 39, assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was killed in action Oct. 22, while deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler, 39 killed in action Oct. 22, while deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. The Washington Post

According to American authorities, the Delta team involved in the Hawijah mission was not anticipating entry to the compound, let alone that they would be involved in a firefight; their purpose was delineated as advisers. A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained that the U.S. forces were to remain close by the helicopters leaving the Peshmerga to advance on the compound.

The unforeseen, but predictable occurred, when the militants began firing and succeeded in pinning down the Kurdish troops at the wall surrounding the prison compound. In the shooting, some of the Peshmerga sustained wounds. With this scenario unfolding before them, the decision was reached by the American team to advance to the compound to give practical assistance to the Peshmerga.

Islamic State terrorists were preparing to execute an "imminent mass execution", went the narrative, compelling Kurdish forces to advance an operation to rescue prisoners of the Islamic State jihadis. The lives of some 70 Iraqis hung in he balance. As the Kurds advanced, they had with them dozens of U.S. special operations troops, approaching the town of Hawija, to conduct a raid on the nearby prison.

The Kurdish Regional Government had requested the aid of American troops. When the Islamic State terrorists were routed, their prisoners were released, and a Pentagon spokesman explained that the operation gained the U.S. a valuable intelligence trove besides the capture of a number of the terrorists and the death of yet others in the ongoing conflict against the Islamist fanatics.

It represented an unusual U.S. special operations support for an Iraqi rescue operation by the Peshmerga with whom the U.S. has worked closely in a training and advisory capacity. This incident represents the first time that American ground forces have operated in combat capacity alongside the Peshmerga since the launch of Operation Inherent Resolve a year ago.

"This operation was deliberately planned and launched after receiving information that the hostages faced imminent mass execution"; with death appearing "perhaps within hours", according to Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook. According to the hostages that were freed, some hostages had already been killed at the prison. The situation appeared to have called for active intervention by the U.S. troops: in response to a "unique" circumstance.

"They are allowed to defend themselves and also [to] defend partner forces, and to protect against the loss of innocent life. And that's what played out in this particular operation", stressed the Pentagon spokesman. According to the Kurdish government, this was a two-hour operation led by its counterterrorism forces, support given by coalition troops.

According to the Kurdish statement over 20 ISIL fighters had been killed and 69 hostages released, none of them Kurds. For their part, the Islamic State group dismissively characterized it as "a failed operation by the crusader coalition", as no Peshmerga were among those rescued. A firefight had resulted in  Sgt. Wheeler sustained a mortal wound; given medical treatment at the scene, he died.

U.S. forces and the Peshmerga storm ISIS stronghold, rescue 70 Kurdish hostages north Iraq
Kurdish Peshmerga forces fire locations of ISIS militants in norther Iraq. File photo

The rescue mission was to have seen the Americans limited to transporting Iraqi soldiers in five U.S.-special operations helicopters, providing airstrikes before and after the mission, advising Kurdish fighters and Iraqi security forces, and providing intelligence for the operation. Of the prisoners freed, over 20 were members of Iraq's security forces.

Coming on the heels of Moscow's intervention in Syria blindsiding the U.S. with its new position of confident control, replacing in a sense the American illusion of mastering the situation against ISIL while supporting the rebel groups hostile to Bashar al-Assad, here is evidence of an actively engaged and involved American presence in Iraq, as though it was staged to give face-saving indication of one small victory against a backdrop of lukewarm initiatives.

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