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Americans slain in Syria attack: A Green Beret, a former SEAL and two language specialists

Security camera footage shows the moment of the Jan. 16 explosion in Manbij, Syria. Four Americans were killed in the attack claimed by the Islamic State. (Video: Associated Press)
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A Green Beret, a Navy linguist, a former Navy SEAL and a Syrian emigre were the Americans killed in this week’s suicide bombing in Syria, the Defense Department and a defense contractor said on Friday.

The Pentagon named the three current and former service members slain in Wednesday’s attack as Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician Shannon M. Kent; and civilian Scott A. Wirtz, a former Navy SEAL working for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The department did not identify the fourth American killed, a civilian contractor who officials said served as an interpreter. A spokesman for defense contractor Valiant Integrated Services said an employee, Ghadir Taher, was killed in the attack.

Suicide blast kills four Americans in Syria, a sign of remaining extremist danger

The four died, and three other Americans were wounded, in the northern city of Manbij when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives vest at a restaurant the group visited after a meeting with local military officials.

The incident marked the largest single loss of life in the Pentagon’s war against Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a sign of the powerful threat that the group continues to pose as the Trump administration begins to withdraw.

The attack took place in a city that has become a symbol of the complex array of local and international rivalries that American and partner forces have navigated as they seek to stabilize areas reclaimed from the Islamic State.

Charles Summers Jr., a Pentagon spokesman, said the bombing demonstrated that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, “remains a threat” in Syria. “We will continue to hit the remnants of ISIS hard to destroy any residual networks and ensure its enduring defeat,” he said in a statement.

The American team was struck as the larger U.S. force of about 2,000 troops makes preparations to depart Syria, while also continuing its support for Syrian partner forces battling the Islamic State. While the militants no longer control a vast domain across Iraq and Syria, they hold some territory in eastern Syria.

The status of the fight against the Islamic State has come under renewed scrutiny after President Trump’s surprise Dec. 19 withdrawal announcement. Initially, the president declared that the group had been defeated and said U.S. troops would be coming home immediately. But senior officials, facing widespread criticism from allies and lawmakers, have since softened that characterization and said troops will exit in a manner that allows them to ensure the militants are fully beaten.

American forces have been stationed in Manbij, a strategic city near Syria’s border with Turkey, since 2017 in an effort to ensure extremists do not return and to avoid clashes between Kurdish partner forces and factions supported by NATO ally Turkey, which views the U.S.-backed Kurdish units as a terrorist threat. Russian and Syrian government forces are also positioned nearby.

Killing of 4 Americans in Syria throws spotlight on Trump’s policy

Manbij has been largely quiet in recent years, possibly creating a false sense of security for foreign personnel conducting patrols and engaging with local troops. The Pentagon has launched an investigation into this week’s attack, including the circumstances surrounding the team’s visit to a restaurant known as a destination for Westerners.

The backgrounds of the Americans killed, according to information provided by the military, is representative of the skills U.S. forces have honed in the insurgent conflicts of the past two decades.

Farmer, a 37-year-old Green Beret from Boynton Beach, Fla., was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), based at Fort Campbell, Ky., the Pentagon said. A married father of four, Farmer joined the Army in 2005 and did multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before serving in ­Syria. He received numerous awards and decorations, including a Bronze Star Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters.

Kent, a 35-year-old language specialist, was assigned to Cryptologic Warfare Activity 66, based at Fort Meade, Md. She enlisted in the Navy in 2003. “She was a rockstar, an outstanding Chief Petty Officer, and leader to many in the Navy Information Warfare Community,” Cmdr. Joseph Harrison, the head of her unit, said in a statement.

Kent was from Pine Plains, N.Y., and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered that flags across the state be flown at half-staff until Kent’s funeral. “I am not surprised she quickly rose through the ranks as a Navy Cryptologist as she was a master of languages — speaking seven fluently,” Dutchess County Legislature Chairman Gregg Pulver said in a statement. “Those of us who knew her personally will remember her brilliant mind, loving nature, and always hold her as our small-town hero.”

Kent was the first female service member killed by enemy fire in more than three years.

More than 80 female service members have been killed by enemy action since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to a database maintained by the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. The last woman killed in combat was Air Force Maj. Adrianna M. Vorderbruggen, who died in late 2015 in Afghanistan.

What the Americans who were killed in Syria were fighting for

Wirtz, a 42-year-old civilian and former Navy SEAL, served as an operations support specialist with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s intelligence arm. A DIA spokeswoman said he had completed three deployments for the agency in the Middle East.

“This is a stark reminder of the dangerous missions we conduct for the nation and of the threats we work hard to mitigate,” the DIA’s director, Lt. Gen Robert P. Ashley Jr., said in a statement.

Wirtz competed in mixed martial arts in his hometown, St. Louis, in 2009, winning a bout in the Battles for Fame event. “We are saddened by the news today of the passing a former fighter, supporter and friend,” Shamrock FC, a professional mixed martial arts company, said in a statement.

Taher, a 27-year-old native of Damascus, Syria, immigrated to the United States in 2001 and studied business before returning to Syria as an interpreter for Valiant, according to her younger brother, Ali.

Asked about how she viewed her work, her brother said: “She described it as hard, but she loved it. Although she was in a dangerous place, she never felt the danger. She was such a kind soul. . . . She brought people together no matter where they’re from.”

Taher is survived by parents and three siblings. She would have turned 28 in two weeks, her brother said. “We are extremely saddened by the tragic and senseless passing of Ghadir Taher,” Tom Becker, a spokesman for Valiant, said in a statement. “She was a talented and highly-respected colleague loved by many who will be dearly missed.”

Deadly Syria attack deepens anxiety about Trump’s drawdown plan

In a separate announcement Friday, the Army’s Special Operations Command said an Army ranger, Sgt. Cameron A. Meddock, 26, of Spearman, Tex., died Thursday of wounds he received during combat operations on Jan. 12 in Afghanistan’s Badghis province.

Meddock served with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, and was on his second deployment with the U.S.-led coalition. The announcement said he died in Landstuhl, Germany, “as a result of wounds sustained from small arms fire.”

The casualty in a province known as relatively secure was a reminder of the deterioration of security across Afghanistan.

Julie Tate and Dan Lamothe in Washington and Alex Horton in Dubai contributed to this report.