Oklahoma Soldier Killed In Iraq
FORT BRAGG, North Carolina - The first American killed in combat in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been identified as Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler from Oklahoma.
Wheeler, 39, died during a raid in northern Iraq to free dozens of prisoners who were about to be executed by the Islamic terror group.
In a statement, the Army said that Wheeler was assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He graduated in 1994 from Muldrow High School in Sequoyah County.
The Army said that Wheeler, who joined the military in 1995, was assigned to U.S. Army Special Operations Command in 2004, and deployed 11 times in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Acting on word of an "imminent mass execution" by ISIS militants, dozens of U.S. special operations troops and Iraqi forces raided a northern Iraqi compound Thursday, freeing approximately 70 Iraqi prisoners.
The raiders killed and captured a number of militants and recovered what the Pentagon called a trove of valuable intelligence about the terrorist organization.
CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan reported that the American forces were there to advise and assist, not to be an assault force -- but that role changed when the U.S. troops saw the Kurdish Peshmerga get pinned down in a heavy exchange of fire with ISIS fighters.
"That call was made on the ground," said a U.S. defense official.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the target of the raid was a prison near the town of Hawija and that the raid was undertaken at the request of the Kurdish Regional Government, the semi-autonomous body that governs the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. He said U.S. special operations forces supported what he called an Iraqi Peshmerga rescue operation.
The Peshmerga are the Kurdish region's organized militia. The U.S. has worked closely with them in training and advising roles, but this was the first known instance of U.S. ground forces operating alongside Iraqi forces in combat since launching Operation Inherent Resolve last year.
"This operation was deliberately planned and launched after receiving information that the hostages faced imminent mass execution," Cook said, adding later that it appeared the hostages faced death "perhaps within hours" and that freed hostages told authorities some had been killed at the prison recently, prior to the rescue.
Cook said Defense Secretary Ash Carter approved the U.S. participation in the mission. Cook called it "consistent with our counter-ISIL effort to train, advise and assist Iraqi forces."
CBS News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.