Two U.S. troops were wounded in Iraq and Syria over the weekend, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday, a sign that as the number of offensive operations against the Islamic State has increased, so has the danger to American forces in the region.
One service member, probably a Special Operations soldier, was hit by “indirect fire” such as a rocket or mortar strike while operating north of the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital. Another soldier was also hit by indirect fire outside Irbil, a city in the Iraqi region of Kurdistan.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, would not provide details about the extent of their injuries nor whether they had been evacuated off the battlefield because he did not want to give the Islamic State a “Battle Damage Assessment” of their recent attacks against U.S. forces. Davis did say, however, that the two service members had not returned to their units.
In both instances, Davis noted that the service members were not “engaged in active combat” and were behind the lines operating in advisory roles when they came under fire.
According to publicly available data from the Pentagon, there have been 14 service members wounded in Iraq and Syria since the start of the U.S.-led mission there in 2014. Tuesday’s announcement is the first official recognition of a U.S. service member being wounded in Syria. There are roughly 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and probably about 500 in Syria.
In October, the White House authorized the deployment of a small detachment of Special Operations troops to Syria to help bolster local forces fighting on the ground there. In recent weeks, an additional 250 Special Operations troops have arrived to help capitalize on recent gains against the Islamic State. Roughly a dozen U.S. Special Operations forces were photographed in recent days near Raqqa; it is unclear whether those were the troops that were targeted over the weekend.
Outside Irbil, U.S. troops have been advising Kurdish peshmerga forces that are participating in the early stages of the Iraqi offensive to retake the city of Mosul, an Islamic State stronghold since June 2014. Earlier this month, U.S. Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV was killed by gunfire when Islamic State fighters broke through peshmerga defenses near the town of Telskuf, roughly 15 miles from Mosul.
Besides Keating, two other Americans have been killed during combat operations against the Islamic State. Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, an elite Delta Force soldier, died in October during a raid in northern Iraq, and Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin died in March after his artillery fire base came under rocket fire. During his annual Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery, President Obama stressed that the three service members gave “their lives in combat on our behalf.”
Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.