Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 6 August 2020

US service member killed in Iraq

The service member died during a combat mission in the north of the country

Nineveh police at a checkpoint. Florian Neuhof / The National
Nineveh police at a checkpoint. Florian Neuhof / The National

A US service member has been killed in a joint operation with Iraqi forces in Northern Iraq, the US military said.

The service member died on Saturday in Nineveh province while accompanying and advising Iraqi Security Forces as part of a wider Iraqi military push to secure the country from ISIS militants.

Iraq's government declared victory against ISIS in late 2017 after a three year war to retake parts of the country seized by the group in 2014 including the key northern city of Mosul.

In March this year, ISIS was ousted from its final territorial enclave in Syria, the town of Baghouz, prompting US president Donald Trump to declare victory against the group and order the withdrawal of all American troops from Syria.

He later walked back promises to withdraw from Syria, while ISIS militants have maintained an insurgency in Iraq and Syria. Iraqi Security Forces and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have struggled to hold areas cleared of militants, a report from the lead inspector general of the US-led coalition, named Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), found.

ISIS members have carried out targeted assassinations, ambushes and suicide bombings in both countries and in Iraq have "established a more stable command and control node and a logistics node for coordination of attacks," the report said.

The group's strategy in the two countries is to "create turmoil in territory it has lost" and prevent local security forces "from establishing effective control and maintaining civil order."

OIR believes the group likely has between 14,000 and 18,000 "members" in Iraq and Syria, among them up to 3,000 foreigners, the report said.

Nineveh, where the service member was killed, is one of five areas of northern and western Iraq where ISIS is using guerrilla tactics. OIR said Iraqi forces require “much more training and equipment” to confront insurgents there and in Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk and Salahuddin.

Local forces in Syria and Iraq "remain unable to sustain long-term operations, conduct multiple operations simultaneously, or hold territory that they have cleared," the report released last week read.

Last Monday, Iraq launched the third phase of operation Victory Will, in a bid to expel ISIS from the country. The first two phases aimed to secure Anbar in the west and Salahuddin and Nineveh in the north.

The group may have lost territory, but it is still able to bring in considerable funds through criminal activities and international financing to keep an insurgency going.

“With a significantly lower operating budget, continued revenue-generating activities and the cash the Islamic State hoarded will provide it with adequate funds to survive as a clandestine terrorist movement with the ability to wage prolonged guerilla warfare throughout Iraq and Syria,” a Rand Corporation report said last week, warning the US and its allies should focus on cutting off the group's cash flow to stop attacks.

So far this year, nine US troops have been killed as part of the coalition fight against ISIS, the US Defence Casualty Analysis System states. The US said the name of the most recent service member killed will not be released until their family has been notified.

Updated: August 11, 2019 06:16 PM

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