An American fighting with Kurdish forces against Islamic State militants has been killed in northern Syria, according to the State Department.
He was identified Wednesday as Keith Broomfield, 36, from Massachusetts.
A man associated with the pro-Kurdish group the Liberty Lions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for personal security reasons, said Broomfield was killed during heavy clashes with Islamic State fighters outside the village of Suluk, about 50 miles east of the Syrian border town of Kobane.
The fighting, he said, was on the western side of the village as Kurdish forces, in conjunction with airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition, were attempting to close off roads toward the north-central Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s unofficial capital.
The Liberty Lions supporter said at least one other American, as well as the group of foreign fighters known as the Lions of Rojava, also participated in the battle.
The Lions of Rojava have been featured prominently in the media and have a robust social media presence. They are also known to have worked with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, frequently referred to as the YPG. One of their volunteers is 28-year-old Army veteran Jordan Matson, an American who has become a public figure of sorts after reportedly recruiting numerous Westerners in the fight against the Islamic State and being profiled by USA Today and other outlets.
The number of foreign fighters assisting the Kurds is unknown.
While many Westerners and even some Americans have died fighting for the Islamic State, there had been no reported deaths among Americans who joined Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria.
Americans fighting with the Kurdish forces face no legal repercussions, unlike those who have joined or have attempted to provide material support to the Islamic State. The latter face prosecution in the United States and long prison sentences if convicted.
The death of Broomfield, who may be the first American killed in direct combat with the Islamic State, comes a year after the militant group routed Iraqi forces from Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq. With the Islamic State gaining ground in western Iraq recently, the White House has authorized the deployment of an additional 450 troops to Iraq to train, advise and assist Iraqi forces and Sunni tribes.
More than 3,000 U.S. troops are now in Iraq, most of them supporting and training the Iraqi forces.