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Former Navy SEAL killed fighting in Ukraine

Daniel Swift, whom the U.S. military labeled an ‘active deserter,’ died Wednesday, officials said

Ukrainian soldiers shelter in the woods outside of the strategic city of Bakhmut on Wednesday. Russia has stepped up its offensive in the Donetsk region, with the local governor accusing Russia of using scorched-earth tactics. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A former Navy SEAL was killed in Ukraine this week, the Navy said Friday, the latest American combat fatality in a war that has drawn legions of international fighters.

Daniel Swift died Wednesday, the Navy said in a brief statement accompanying the release of his official military records. He enlisted in 2005, earning awards that suggested combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, though officials declined to describe those operations. Navy SEALs and other elite Special Operations troops conduct some of the U.S. military’s most secretive and sensitive missions, and the government seldom discloses what those tasks entail.

Swift briefly left the military in 2014 and returned the next year. His career took an unusual turn in 2019, his service records show, when the Navy classified him as an “active deserter.” Officials did not provide any additional details. The Navy has experienced a recent rise in desertions, however.

It was not immediately clear what drew Swift to the war or for how long he had been engaged in the fighting. The Navy’s statement said only, “We cannot speculate as to why the former Sailor was in Ukraine.” Attempts to reach Swift’s family were not immediately successful.

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In a self-published e-book, “Fall of a Man,” Swift described a troubled childhood in which his parents divorced and he at one point ran away from home. He married young and had his first child at 20. Three more children would follow, the book says.

After Navy SEAL training, he wrote, Swift was assigned to a team based in Hawaii. He was frustrated that his unit deployed for the first few years of his career, and was present when a colleague, Eric Shellenberger, was killed in a diving accident while training in Washington state in May 2009, he recalled.

Swift vented in the book about his experiences during a deployment to Iraq, writing that he and his fellow SEALs often knew where enemies were but were not allowed to kill them. They did not trust the Iraqi troops they took on operations, he wrote.

Swift also recounted a Humvee rollover in Iraq in which he was tossed around inside “like being a bean in a maraca.” At least two service members broke bones, he said, but he survived relatively unscathed.

“Afghanistan,” he wrote, “was, and still is, my best deployment and that’s all I’ll say about it. … I have nothing bad to say about my time in Afghanistan.”

Bloody Bakhmut siege poses risks for Ukraine

Time, which was first to report his death, reported earlier Friday that Swift was killed fighting alongside Ukrainian troops in the east, which is the scene of the most intense combat in the country — what Pentagon officials have characterized as a close-in knife fight.

The fight over the town of Bakhmut and nearby Soledar has been particularly bloody. The Russian mercenary group Wagner has sent waves of personnel to push back the Ukrainians, with both sides suffering substantial losses.

“When we kill five out of 10 of their soldiers at once, they are replenished again to 10 over the course of several hours,” said Andriy Kryshchenko, a deputy battalion commander of a national guard unit posted in the region.

The United States has ramped up security assistance to Ukraine in recent weeks in anticipation of a spring offensive, the success of which probably would depend on how well the Ukrainians can dislodge Russian forces in the eastern Donbas region.

There is no official count of U.S. volunteer fighters in Ukraine. At least five other Americans have died there since the war began in late February, according to an unofficial tally of such reports.

Paul Sonne, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Kelly Kasulis Cho contributed to this report.

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