The soldier from the U.S. Army killed in the line of duty during a raid that freed over 70 hostages from a prison run by the Islamic State militant group in northern Iraq, was a member of the elite Delta Force, said military sources.
Joshua Wheeler a Master Sergeant was the first U.S. combat death in the country of Iraq since the middle of 2014 when American troops started returning to train, assist and advise the military in Iraq in its fight against IS, said military officials.
Wheeler was 39 and from Roland, Oklahoma. He died on October 22 in the province of Kirkuk from wounds that he sustained from small arms fire by the enemy during the operation the U.S. military assisted in to free prisoners held by IS.
Two officials in the military have said that Wheeler was one of the team leaders in the special operations unit known as Delta Force that is based out of Fort Bragg.
He was one of 30 special operations American forces personnel that served as military advisers to a similar unit of the Peshmerga Kurdish forces that led the raid on the prison compound located outside the town of Hawlijah. It had been believed that IS was holding at least 20 Kurdish hostages, said officials.
The Kurds believed the hostages were going to be executed in a short time and that same information had been corroborated by intelligence personnel from the U.S. that had spotted up to four huge graves around the compound, said officials.
A spokesperson from the Pentagon said on Thursday that Ash Carter the Defense Secretary approved the request from the Kurdish Regional Government that asked for help during the raid to rescue the hostages.
Carter took that decision after citing the request had been from one of their close partners and was within the borders of the mission of fighting the IS due to lives being at risk.
A firefight ensued when the rescue mission was underway and the U.S. became involved. During an intense firefight, Wheeler was killed.
However, 70 hostages were rescued and five IS members taken prisoner.