Naval Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Charles Keating IV died May 3 in northern Iraq in a hail of gunfire. The Navy SEAL was advising Kurdish forces when he and other U.S. troops comprising a rescue force joined a battle that had been raging for two hours against 125 Islamic State fighters.
That wasn’t the first time Keating, 31, came under fire on his last deployment, however. As CNN reported this week, he was awarded the Silver Star — the nation’s third-highest award for valor in combat — not for his actions in his last battle but for valor in a fight on March 4 that began with an assault by more than 100 enemy fighters. Keating received it for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity” while directing partner troops to repel the attack and coordinating a reaction force to fight back.
A copy of Keating’s award citation obtained by The Washington Post states that his “courageous leadership, tactical acumen, and physical courage were the key factors” in halting the assault.
“After directing partner nation troops in repelling the enemy’s initial incursion, he coordinated with the immediate reaction force and continued engaging enemy fighters,” Keating’s citation said. “He continually exposed himself to enemy automatic weapon, mortar, and rocket propelled grenade fire as he diligently maneuvered between the front and flanks of the defensive fighting position to stop enemy advances and keep friendly forces accurately informed of the unfolding situation.”
Keating was a member of a Special Operations unit known as Task Force Trident, and served on SEAL Team 1 from Coronado, Calif., the citation added. He was posthumously promoted to chief petty officer.
The citation does not state where the March battle occurred. CNN reported that it was in Syria, but Cmdr. Kyle Raines, a Navy spokesman, told The Washington Post afterward that it was in Iraq. The U.S. military has not yet responded to a request for a summary of action more fully describing the actions that led to Keating’s Silver Star.
Keating’s award, acknowledged posthumously, raises questions about what other recent firefights have occurred in Iraq or Syria involving U.S. troops and which have gone under the radar because no American was killed. According to statistics released by the Pentagon, three U.S. troops have been killed and 16 more have been wounded in action in the fight against the Islamic State since it began in 2014. But defense officials have been reluctant to provide more details.
In one example, journalists asked Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook on Tuesday whether he could confirm that four U.S. service members were wounded June 9 in Syria. Special operations troops there have been advising the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab groups that is working to take back Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto Syrian capital.
Cook said that the Pentagon’s policy is “not to identify wounded service members, for a variety of reasons — including operational security, including privacy reasons.”
Those remarks are accurate. But they didn’t answer the question, and conflicted with recent Defense Department actions if he was implying that doing so was against policy. The Pentagon has acknowledged several times in the campaign against the Islamic State when U.S. troops were wounded without naming them, most recently on May 31. In that case, one service member was wounded by “indirect fire” such as a rocket or mortar strike north of Raqqa, and a second was hit with indirect fire outside the Iraqi city of Irbil.
Questioned about the difference between the May 31 disclosure and the potential casualties June 9, Cook said Tuesday that “we do not want to provide additional information to the enemy that might enhance their own assessment of the battlefield situation and their own impact.”
Despite the apparent inconsistency, Cook said he was “spelling out right now our policy consistent with what it’s been in the past” regarding wounded service members.
“For a variety of reasons, we do not provide information on wounded service members and we’re going to continue to stick to that, again, because we don’t want to provide information to the enemy that might be helpful,” he said. “We have privacy concerns that we want to address.”