A Navy sailor who became the first American killed in the military offensive to reclaim the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State died while serving alongside Navy SEALs, defense officials said Sunday.
Chief Petty Officer Jason Finan, 34, was attached to an elite SEAL team that was advising the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service, one defense official in Iraq said. The Iraqi troops were attacked by Islamic State fighters Thursday, and the SEAL team members decided to pull back along with the troops they were advising, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq. Finan was in a vehicle and was telling other members of his team that he had spotted a roadside bomb when he was killed, the general told reporters in the city of Irbil on Sunday.
Finan is survived by his wife, Chariss, and their 7-year-old son, of Imperial Beach, Calif., the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Finan, a native of Anaheim, Calif., was assigned to the Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 3, based just 100 miles to the south in Coronado, Calif. He enlisted in the Navy in August 2003 and had earned several commendations throughout his military career, a Navy spokeswoman said Saturday.
“Chief Finan was extremely proud of his service to his country [and] he was deeply respected by his peers and teammates,” Capt. Dean Muriano, commander of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group Unit 1, said in a statement. “His family and brothers in arms are mourning and grieving the loss of this respected and talented Sailor.”
“He gave his life for his teammates and was committed and loyal to the country he loved,” Muriano wrote. “In return I ask that to best honor his memory and service, we give both his family and his fellow Sailors the time they need to heal so they can mourn his loss.”
According to the Orange County Register, several flags in the Lake Forest neighborhood of Finan’s mother were lowered to half-staff on Friday, as news spread of Finan’s death.
“It’s the only thing we can do,” one of her neighbors, Steven Beck, told the newspaper through tears. “When I think about the military and the sacrifices it makes, it deeply touches me.”
Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), chairman of the Congressional Special Operations Forces Caucus, offered his “deepest condolences and prayers” to those close to Finan in a statement on Friday.
“I also offer my condolences to the entire Naval Special Warfare community, which is enduring the loss of another of its finest as it occupies the front lines in the fight to destroy ISIS and preserve our freedom and security,” Peters wrote. “Chief Petty Officer Jason Finan is a hero who represents the best of San Diego, the best of our special operations community, and the best of America — he will not be forgotten.”
Finan’s death marks the fourth time that a U.S. service member has been killed in Iraq since U.S. military operations against the Islamic State began there in August 2014.
The “multipronged attacks” to retake Mosul, which has been under ISIS control for more than two years and is the last major Iraqi stronghold for Islamic State militants, started last Monday and quickly escalated, as The Post’s Loveday Morris and Kareem Fahim reported from Iraq last week:
Iraq’s elite counterterrorism units advanced to within six miles of Mosul on Thursday as Kurdish forces opened a new front to the north — in a significant escalation of the fight for the Islamic State-held city.
Plumes of dust and smoke rose over the majority-Christian town of Bartella, east of Mosul, as Islamic State militants sent a barrage of car bombs to repel the advance of the counterterrorism forces. But by nightfall, the militants’ resistance had crumbled and the Iraqi flag had been raised over the town’s main church, commanders said.
The battle for Mosul is further complicated because it involves “not just regular Iraqi army forces but also Sunni tribal units, powerful Shiite militias and the Kurdish troops of the northern semiautonomous region — forces that are often at odds with the Baghdad government,” The Post reported.
In addition to Finan’s death, there were reportedly also heavy casualties among Kurdish peshmerga forces in their push for Mosul.
“Regrettably a number of peshmerga have paid the ultimate sacrifice for us to deliver today’s gains,” the peshmerga’s general command said in a statement. U.S. coalition support and air cover “were not as decisive as in the past,” it added.
Since enlisting in the Navy in 2003, Finan trained in explosive ordnance disposal and as a naval parachutist, an enlisted surface warfare specialist and a diver, according to a Navy spokeswoman. Finan’s 18 awards and decorations included the Navy-Marine Corps Commendation with Combat V, the Army Commendation Medal and the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, among several others.
There are currently more than 5,000 U.S. troops deployed in Iraq.
Mosul has been the site of numerous battles over the past 13 years. On April 11, 2003, after the United States and allied forces invaded Iraq, Mosul fell when forces allied to Saddam Hussein abandoned the city and later surrendered. But numerous American service members were killed in subsequent attacks by Iraqi militants. And two years ago, Mosul fell under the control of the Islamic State, when Iraqi forces surrendered the city.
This story was initially published Saturday, Oct. 22, and updated Sunday with additional information.