US service personnel killed in Syria attack, the first casualties since 2014

US service personnel killed in Syria attack, the first casualties since 2014

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U.S. Marines fire an M120 Mortar round at known ISIS staging areas in the Middle Euphrates River Valley's Deir Ezzor province, Syria, in late 2018 (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Matthew Crane)

WASHINGTON — Two U.S. service personnel were killed in an explosion triggered by a suicide bomber in eastern Syria Wednesday, with ISIS claiming responsibility, Pentagon officials said.

Also killed were one Department of Defense civilian and one contractor supporting DoD, and 11 civilians. Three U.S. service members were injured, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

Their identities were withheld until after next-of-kin notification.

The attack, believed to been a bomb, occurred in Manbij, the linchpin city in northern Syria desired by Turkey but where U.S. forces have maintained a presence in support of Kurdish-centric ground force allies in the anti-ISIS campaign.

“U.S. service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today,” a statement from the spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, the name of the anti-ISIS effort, said. “We are still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time.”

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the attack will not change U.S. effort in the region. “Our fight against terrorism is ongoing and we will remain vigilant and committed to its destruction,”  he said ahead of a meeting with Japan’s defense minister.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent monitor of the war based in the United Kingdom, reported that at least eight people were killed in the explosion, according to news reports.

Last week the Pentagon started withdrawing equipment from Syria, the first steps to comply with President Donald Trump’s order for U.S. forces to leave that country. Trump ordered the withdrawal, declaring that ISIS has been defeated.

There are roughly 3,000 U.S. personnel in Syria, the bulk being special forces.

Today’s deaths are the first U.S. casualties in Syria since two service members were killed at the start of the campaign in 2014.

Last week Russian military police started patrols near Manbij, where mostly-Kurdish troops supported by the Pentagon have vowed to thwart any Turkish forces positioning themselves for a likely assault.

Trump has held conversations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about protecting the Kurds. Ankara considers the Kurds fighting with the U.S. coalition as terrorists.

Syrian Democratic Forces in the U.S. coalition garnered control of Manbij in 2016, driving out ISIS. They then almost immediately faced a threat from Turkey.

Meanwhile, between Dec. 30, 2018 and Jan. 12, 2019, the U.S. coalition conducted 575 strikes consisting of 1,147 engagements in Syria, and conducted 13 strikes consisting of 19 engagements in Iraq, the Pentagon said.

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