UPDATE: 12:03 p.m. EDT: U.S. military officials have confirmed that a U.S. Special Operations team assisted Iraqi forces in an operation Thursday that resulted in the freedom of some 70 hostages being held by the Islamic State group. One American soldier died in the raid near Hawija, Iraq.
“We commend and congratulate the brave individuals who participated in this successful operation that saved many lives, and we deeply mourn the loss of one of our own who died while supporting his Iraqi comrades engaged in a tough fight,” General Lloyd J. Austin III, a U.S. Central Commander, said in a statement.
The hostages rescued, including 20 members of the Iraqi Security Forces, faced imminent mass execution, according to a separate statement released by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook. Five ISIS militants were detained by Iraqi forces, and a number were killed in clashes. Four Peshmerga soldiers were wounded during the operation.
At least one U.S. soldier was killed and some 70 Kurdish hostages rescued Thursday, after American and Kurdish commandos raided an Islamic State group outpost near the Iraqi town of Hawija, various media outlets reported. American military officials declined to comment on details of the operation, the New York Times reported, but Iraqi officials said the operation included joint airstrikes on militant posts and American commandos on the ground in an attempt to free Kurdish fighters who were taken hostage.
The objective was a prison run by the militants in a village east of Hawija, a northern Iraqi town, according to Iraqi officials. Kurdish forces led the operation, and were reportedly able to capture ISIS militants. Two senior U.S. officials confirmed the operation.
“They cut off roads and raided the place successfully,” one of the Iraqi officials who confirmed the raid, Najmaldin Karim, told the New York Times in a telephone interview. “They were able to take people with them.”
— KRG-USA (@KRG_USA) October 22, 2015
US operation frees Kurdish hostages in Iraq, one American killed : CNN https://t.co/xQHMp7lP2l
— The Daily Star (@DailyStarLeb) October 22, 2015
The joint operation comes as the American-led anti-ISIS coalition has stepped up a campaign to retake areas taken by militants in Iraq and Syria. Hawija has been under ISIS control and has been a site of major clashes in recent weeks. The raid was the first confirmed operation involving American commandos against ISIS in Iraq. The U.S. has recently launched airstrikes in the area.
Western-allied Kurdish fighters have been battling ISIS in Iraq for months, and have become one of the most formidable forces fighting ISIS on the ground. Late last month, Kurdish forces of the Peshmerga were able to regain 10 villages in northern Iraq with support from the Iraqi military. They have repeatedly targeted Hawija in recent weeks.
ISIS has gained a foothold in Iraq since the militants were able to conquer the country's second-largest city, Mosul, in the summer of 2014.