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Pentagon: US troops wounded in Syria, Iraq over the weekend

Peshmerga soldiers gather around a trainer providing instructions on how to properly don a protective mask, during a six-week infantry basic course near Irbil, Iraq, Jan. 11, 2016. Peshmerga soldiers attend a six-week infantry basic course that will improve their tactical knowledge to aid in the fight against the Islamic State.

SERGIO RANGEL/U.S. ARMY

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 31, 2016

WASHINGTON — Two American servicemembers were wounded over the weekend in separate incidents in Iraq and Syria, though a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday neither was hurt in direct combat.

The two servicemembers were working behind the forward line of troops, advising indigenous fighters battling the Islamic State group in each country when they were wounded by enemy rocket or mortar fire, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

“They were not engaged in active combat,” he said.

Davis declined to provide the extent of their injuries or branch of service, citing longstanding Pentagon policies not to disclose information about injured troops that could “give our enemy free battle damage assessments.”

Speaking to reporters at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said "yes, of course" the injuries in Iraq and Syria were combat casualties, in an apparent split from the Pentagon's initial assessment. He did not however use the word combat in his response.

"These people were in harm's way," Carter said. "There's no doubt and no question, as the president himself made clear yesterday."

On Friday, President Barack Obama told Stars and Stripes that the three deaths so far in Iraq since US troops returned there to help defeat the Islamic State group were combat deaths, and he repeated that Sunday while honoring the men during Memorial Day.

To date, there have been 14 American troops wounded in action in support of the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State group mission Operation Inherent Resolve since it began in June 2014. Three American servicemembers have been killed in action in support of OIR, each in Iraq.

The Pentagon has said American troops, including hundreds of special operators, serving in Iraq and Syria are not on a combat mission, President Barack Obama recently told Stars and Stripes that they “will sometimes face combat situations.”

The three Americans who died in Iraq, Obama said in a written Q&A, “were killed in combat while they were supporting local forces in Iraq.”

Related: Exclusive Stars and Stripes Q&A with President Barack Obama

Two of those Americans were special operators who were killed in fights with Islamic State militants. The other was a Marine killed in an Islamic State group rocket attack.

The servicemember hurt in Syria could be the first U.S. casualty in that country, where about 300 American special operators are serving as advisers to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as it advances toward the Islamic State group in Raqqa, the terrorist group’s capital in that country. The American was in western Syria, north of Raqqa when he was injured, Davis said.

The American injured in Iraq was in the country’s northern region near Irbil, where hundreds of Americans are helping train Kurdish peshmerga fighters, Davis said.

Neither injured American has returned to duty since the attacks, Davis said.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

 

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