1st US servicemember to die in Syria to be buried as coalition fight ramps up

Explosive ordnance disposal technician Scott Dayton (left) speaks with Rear Adm. Jan Thornqvist (right), chief of staff of the royal Swedish navy, during his visit to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story on March 6, 2013 in Virginia Beach, Va.


By DIANNA CAHN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 14, 2016

WASHINGTON — The first American serviceman killed in the Syrian conflict will be laid to rest Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery. As his family prepared for the private burial, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced a ramp-up of the U.S. involvement in the Syria fight with the deployment of 200 more troops.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Dayton, 42, was a Navy bomb technician killed on Thanksgiving Day in northern Syria. He was one of about 300 U.S. special operations forces trainers, advisers and explosive ordnance disposal team members in Syria tasked with training local forces to defeat the Islamic State group.

He was killed by an improvised bomb in Ayn Issa, about 35 miles north of the terrorists’ stronghold Raqqa.

Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve has “reached a critical milestone,” Carter said, with American and local forces waging a two-pronged campaign to take Islamic State-controlled Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

Carter said securing Raqqa -- “a hub for plotters of external attacks” -- was a key objective after the coalition helped local forces halt the militants’ expansion, defending the border town of Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and retaking control of the Tishrin Dam and several northern towns and villages. Those efforts, along with the mission in Iraq, have severed the terrorists’ ground link between Mosul and Raqqa and limited the movement of personnel, finances and supplies for the Islamic State group, he said.

“The seizure of these two cities is necessary to ensure destruction of ISIL’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria – the primary objectives of our military campaign – and put ISIL on an irreversible path to a lasting defeat,” Carter said Dec. 9 in Bahrain, using an acronym for the group.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander for Operation Inherent Resolve, said Wednesday that US forces in Syria have been training 3,000 Syrian fighters in preparation for the advance on Raqqa. The additional U.S. special operations forces will be used to increase that number as much as threefold, to ensure an Islamic State defeat, he said.

“You can certainly bet that they will add to the number of Syrian partner forces that will we train,” Townsend told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon. “That's a primary task for those additional troops.

Dayton, from Woodbridge, Va., was assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Two in Virginia Beach. He had earned 19 awards during his 23 years in service, the Navy said.

At a private memorial service in Virginia Beach on Dec. 9, Dayton’s commanding officer at Mobile Unit Two said his death was not in vain.

“His legacy lives on in those that he selflessly led, in those that he thoroughly trained,” said Cmdr. Rudy Schoen. “And our adversaries will learn that as painful as it is to lose a warrior like Scott, it will not break our spirit. It will only galvanize us to train and fight even harder.”

Dayton is the fifth U.S. servicemember killed since the U.S. launched its campaign against the Islamic State group in 2014. U.S. special operators first deployed to Syria in October 2015.

Pentagon Reporter Tara Copp contributed to this story.

Twitter: @DiannaCahn

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