By DoD News
By Terri Moon Cronk
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Friday he made the decision that U.S. Special Forces would assist Iraqi peshmerga partners in yesterday’s raid on an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant prison in Iraq to rescue 70 hostages after intelligence indicated a mass execution was imminent.
By having U.S. forces accompanying Iraqi peshmerga fighters and providing airlift support for the hostages, lives were saved and a “significant cache of intelligence was collected,” the defense secretary told Pentagon reporters.
Carter expressed his condolences to the family of U.S. Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, who died from his wounds when ISIL forces attacked U.S. and peshmerga fighters.
The secretary emphasized that since he became defense secretary early this year, he has ensured the Defense Department would remain “laser-focused on the execution of our counter-ISIL strategy.”
Delivering the lasting defeat to ISIL “will require us to learn, evolve and adapt over the course of a determined campaign to carry out this strategy,” he said.
The rescued hostages had “expected to be executed that day” by their ISIL captors, Carter said.
He added, “Not only did our support help prevent another mass killing, we enabled those partners of ours to deliver ISIL a clear defeat, and prevented them from broadcasting a horrific massacre to the world.”
U.S. forces were going to accompany peshmerga fighters but not enter the prison compound until the ISIL attack ensued, Carter said.
Amid the initial gunfire, “[Wheeler] did what I’m very proud Americans do in that situation,” the secretary said. “He ran to the sound of the guns and he stood up, and all the indications are it was his actions and one of his teammate’s that protected those who were involved in breaching the compound and made the mission successful.”
Carter said he is “immensely proud” of Wheeler’s actions.
Raids Provide Information
The secretary told reporters he expects the U.S. military would conduct more raids in the future.
“One of the reasons [for raids] is you learn a great deal, you collect documentation, [and] various electronic equipment … on top of which we now have 70 individuals who spent a lot of time [in the prison where the rescue occurred],” he said.
“The sum of all this will be some valuable intelligence… saving the lives that were about to be brutally sacrificed … and supporting our peshmerga partners, who have been wonderful fighters,” Carter said of the operation.
And while conducting raids in the future “doesn’t represent us assuming a combat role,” Carter emphasized, “It represents a continuation of our advise and assist mission … And this is an example of a case where we could do something we alone had the capability to do, and I’m absolutely prepared to do that.”
Adjusting Approach to ISIL in Syria
Turning to the fight to defeat ISIL in Syria, the secretary said the challenges of developing capable and motivated forces in Syria have been “painfully clear.”
But with such efforts as coalition aircraft recently striking a key ISIL oil enterprise, Carter emphasized the United States is “ramping up our assault on this critical pillar of ISIL’s financial infrastructure.”
U.S. and coalition forces will work to disrupt ISIL’s distribution of oil in a lucrative marketplace, he said, adding that one of ISIL’s “customers” is the Assad regime.
“We will continue to work on all of the so-called nine lines of effort of the counter-ISIL campaign, including counter-finance, counter-messaging and interdicting foreign fighters,” Carter said.
Such approaches in Syria adjust the focus to equip existing groups, rather than train new recruits, “although we will continue to be open to new approaches,” he said.
U.S. and coalition forces are strengthening their partnerships with moderate Syrian forces that have fought fiercely in recent months and hope to advance the gains they’ve made with coalition help, he added.
“The additional support I’ve mentioned today does not represent a change in our strategy,” the secretary said of countering ISIL. “But it does represent a change in our approach to achieving it. I’m determined that we’ll continue to adapt to get results.”