US troops reportedly fighting IS on the ground in Iraq

UK’s Guardian cites video from Kurdish peshmerga fighters showing American special forces in action against terror group

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

An image from a video purportedly showing a joint US-Kurdish raid on an Islamic State prison in the town of Hawija, Iraq on October 22, 2015. (screen shot: YouTube)
An image from a video purportedly showing a joint US-Kurdish raid on an Islamic State prison in the town of Hawija, Iraq on October 22, 2015. (screen shot: YouTube)

US special forces are actively engaged in fighting against the Islamic State group in Iraq, according to Kurdish peshmerga fighters, despite official US policy that says its soldiers are only training and advising local militias, the Guardian reported on Monday.

Kurdish fighters showed the Guardian video clips in which Western-looking men were seen firing various weapons at IS militants in different firefights in northern Iraq.

“They fight and they even fight ahead of the peshmerga,” a Kurdish fighter named Karwan Hama Tata said. “They won’t allow anyone to take photos of them, but they take photos of everyone.”

The peshmerga fighters refused to allow the videos be published, the report said.

According to the Kurdish fighters, US special forces have been involved in the fighting for several months including in a battle on April 20 to retake Dawus al Aloka village. Attempts to retake the villages of Wastana and Saddam on June 11 and August 26 also saw US personnel in combat against the jihadists, although IS maintained control of the towns.

More recently, on September 11, special forces allegedly helped in the successful recapture of Wastana, the Kurds claimed. All of the actions took place in areas south-west of Kirkuk in northern Iraq.

In a statement, the US Central Command in Iraq denied the claims that US troops were fighting on the ground in any of the operations listed by the Kurds.

“No US or coalition SOF [special operations forces] were engaged in any of these events you listed,” the army said. “The coalition continues to support local partners through our advise and assistance role, but we have no reports of any coalition advise and assist teams becoming engaged during the actions you referenced.”

“As US senior leaders have repeatedly stated, the US is not conducting a combat mission. We continue to conduct an advise and assist mission.”

Despite the denial, US special forces were known to be involved in a rescue mission last month in which they assisted Kurdish troops as they stormed an IS prison freeing 70 prisoners who were facing execution. Master Seargent Joshua Wheeler, 39, died during the operation becoming the first US serviceman to die in the fight against IS.

In June 2014 US President Barack Obama announced that 300 special forces were going to Iraq as military advisers but vowed “American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.”

Following the recent Paris terror attacks — claimed by IS and which killed 130 people — the US administration has come under pressure to take a more active role in fighting the jihadists who have carved a large swath of land in Iraq and Syria for a self-proclaimed caliphate. The US is currently leading an international coalition of countries carrying out airstrikes against IS.

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