Rescue operation freed Hostage from ISIL massacre.
A rescue operation in which U.S. Special Forces assisted Kurdish Peshmerga in freeing scores of ISIL hostages facing execution does not represent a change in policy in regards having “boots on the ground,” the commander in charge of coalition troops in Iraq said Friday.
Lt. Gen Sean MacFarland, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force in Iraq, commended those involved in Thursday’s rescue mission and paid tribute to a U.S. serving member who lost his life in the operation — the first American killed in combat in Iraq since the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) began in 2014.
“Their courage, skill, and sacrifice narrowly prevented yet another brutal massacre by Daesh murderers,” MacFarland said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL.
But he added: “It is important to realize that U.S. military support to this Iraqi rescue operation is part of our overarching counterterrorism efforts throughout the region and does not represent a change in our policy. U.S. forces are not in Iraq on a combat mission and do not have boots on the ground.”
Around 70 people are believed to have been rescued in the counter-offensive in Hawija, 30 miles south of Kirkuk, during which “a number of ISIL terrorists” were killed, the Pentagon said Thursday.
“This operation was deliberately planned and launched after receiving information that the hostages faced imminent mass execution,” read a statement from the Pentagon.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said at least 20 of those rescued were members of the Iraqi security forces and that officials were reviewing the identities of the others freed, adding civilians were among the group.
“The U.S. provided helicopter lift and accompanied Iraqi Peshmerga forces to the compound,” where ISIL held the hostages, Cook said.
According to the office of Kurdish intelligence chief Masrour Barzani, 69 prisoners were rescued, six ISIL fighters detained and more than 20 killed.
ISIL seized large swathes of Iraq during an offensive in the summer of 2014 and in a series of military successes it captured Iraqi and Kurdish regional troops and civilians.
ISIL has used its hostages to seek out ransom payments but has also carried out massacres against prisoners.
U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence consultant Malcolm Nance told Al Jazeera that the mission had been a “resounding success.”
“All in all, this was a good mission. They went in to get 20 people and came out with 70,” Nance said, adding that a huge amount of planning would have gone into the rescue.
“Massive planning is needed for this kind of mission, especially on the intelligence side,” he said. “Hundreds of people offer input for this kinds of mission — and thousands offer support.”