70 captives facing IS ‘mass execution’rescued

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WASHINGTON: Kurdish forces, backed by US forces stormed a prison of the self-styled Islamic State (IS) in northern Iraq on Thursday, freeing some 70 captives who were facing imminent execution, the reports said.

A US serviceman died of wounds sustained in the pre-dawn operation, the first to be killed in action since the US-led campaign against Daesh or the IS began in Iraq in June 2014.

Five IS militants were captured and several others killed in the raid on a compound near Hawijah, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said.

“This operation was deliberately planned and launched after receiving information that the hostages faced imminent mass execution,” Cook said in a statement.

The Hawijah raid marked an apparent break with the normal modus operandi of US forces, which are in Iraq to support government forces but do not directly engage in combat in line with President Barack Obama’s “no boots on the ground policy”.

Cook pushed back against the suggestion that this signalled an expansion of the US role in Iraq.

“This is a unique situation,” he said, adding that the mission was given the green light by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and that the White House was notified.

“We were asked for assistance” by the Kurdish government, Cook said, stressing that “the United States are not in an active combat mission in Iraq.” Residents told AFP that several Chinook helicopters were involved in the raid and that several IS-run checkpoints in the area were targeted by air strikes.

Cook said US helicopters and special operations forces accompanied Kurdish peshmerga forces to the prison compound. The American who later died was wounded “acting in support of Iraqi peshmerga forces after they came under fire from IS,” he said.

“Approximately 70 hostages were rescued including more than 20 members of the Iraqi security forces,” Cook said, adding that the operation had also produced “important intelligence about IS.” According to the office of Kurdish intelligence chief Masrour Barzani, 69 prisoners were rescued, six IS fighters detained and more than 20 killed.

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