It would have been bad enough for Washington if Moscow had simply intervened in Syria and left it to the media to speculate and report on the progress made by Iranian ground troops operating under the cover of Russian airstrikes. But subtlety isn’t really Putin’s style and besides, the conflict in Syria represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to lay bare the West’s deplorable strategy of funding and arming extremists on the way to destabilizing recalcitrant regimes.
And so, not wanting to miss a chance at thoroughly embarrassing the West, The Kremlin has unleashed a veritable avalanche of videos, foreign policy critiques, and pronouncements aimed at i) unmasking the role Washington and its regional allies have played in facilitating the rise of Sunni extremism and ii) highlighting the extent to which Russia is the only country that’s actually gotten results in the campaign to eradicate terrorism in Syria. The media blitz encompasses near daily videos from the Russian Defense Ministry, characteristically deadpan (not to mention hilarious) soundbites from Sergei Lavrov, stinging criticism from Moscow’s Western foreign policy critic extraordinaire Maria Zakharova, and of course, plenty of Putin admonishments.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the West has been left dumbfounded. There’s just no way to explain this to the public. There’s no way to rationalize Washington’s insistence on not cooperating with the Russians because the US has spent a year holding up ISIS as the scourge of humanity. There’s also no way to go about apologizing for the fact that Russian airstrikes have achieved more in four weeks than US airstrikes have achieved in 13 months.
Of course the above isn’t entirely accurate. The situation is very easily explainable. Washington could just say this: “look, Russia and Iran are the real enemies here and ISIS is just a bunch of guys we and our Mid-East allies supported initially because we thought they would help oust Assad and break up the Shiite crescent.” But saying that would be to shatter the illusion and because the public must forever be left in the dark, the US has been left to scramble around for ways to salvage the narrative.
Well, in what might reasonably be described as a bizarre story, the Western media has now released what looks like GoPro helmet cam footage from what Washington is trying to call a dramatic rescue effort that freed dozens of hostages from an ISIS prison in the northern Iraqi town of Huwija.
Apparently, the Peshmerga were attempting to free what they thought were Kurdish prisoners whose graves ISIS had (literally) already dug when Delta Force (who were on the scene acting as “advisers”) decided to step in and assist.
The ensuing firefight led to the first American casualty in Iraq since 2011.
One member of a U.S. special operations force was killed during an overnight mission to rescue hostages held by Islamic State militants in northern Iraq, the first American to die in ground combat with the militant group, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
Sixty-nine hostages were rescued in the action, which targeted an Islamic State prison around 7 kilometers north of the town of Hawija, according to the security council of the Kurdistan region, whose counterterrorism forces took part.
The U.S. rescue mission unfolded amid mounting concerns in Washington over increasing Russian intervention in the Middle East.
The hostages rescued in the raid were all Arabs, including local residents and Islamic State fighters held as suspected spies, a U.S. official said on Thursday.
The official told Reuters that around 20 of the hostages were members of Iraqi security forces.
"Some of the remainder were Daesh (Islamic State) ... fighters that Daesh thought were spies," the official said. "The rest of them were citizens of the local town".
More than 20 Islamic State militants were killed and six detained, the security council said.
Islamic State called the operation "unsuccessful" but acknowledged casualties among its fighters.
In a statement distributed online on Thursday by supporters, it said U.S. gunships had shelled areas around the prison to prevent the arrival of reinforcements, then clashed with militants for two hours.
The statement confirmed U.S. claims that some guards had been killed and others detained in the operation.
"Dozens" of U.S. troops were involved in the mission, a U.S. defense official said, declining to be more specific about the number.
"It was a deliberately planned operation, but it was also done with the knowledge that imminent action was needed to save the lives of these people," the U.S. defense official said.
Now obviously, there’s no telling what actually went on here, nor is there any telling what 30 members of Delta Force were doing running around with the Peshmerga in northern Iraq, but one thing is for sure: the US media seems to be trying to counter the Russian propaganda blitz by holding up the Huwija raid and the death of Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler as proof that Washington is serious about battling ISIS.
The U.S. soldier fatally wounded in a hostage rescue mission in Iraq heroically inserted himself into a firefight to defend Kurdish soldiers, even though the plan called for the Kurds to do the fighting, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Friday.
"This is someone who saw the team that he was advising and assisting coming under attack, and he rushed to help them and made it possible for them to be effective, and in doing that lost his own life," Carter told a Pentagon news conference.
Carter applauded Army Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler, 39, of Roland, Oklahoma, who died of his wounds Thursday.
The defense chief gave the most extensive public description yet of what transpired during the pre-dawn raid on an Islamic State prison compound near the town of Hawija. About 70 people, including at least 20 members of the Iraqi security forces, were freed. It was the first time U.S. troops had become involved in direct ground combat in Iraq since the war against the Islamic State was launched in August 2014, and Wheeler was the first U.S. combat death.
"As the compound was being stormed, the plan was not for the U.S. ... forces to enter the compound or be involved in the firefight," Carter said. "However, when a firefight ensued, this American did what I'm very proud that Americans do in that situation, and he ran to the sound of the guns and he stood up. All the indications are that it was his actions and that of one of his teammates that protected those who were involved in breaching the compound and made the mission a success."
"That is an inherent risk that we ask people to assume," Carter added. "Again, it wasn't part of the plan, but it was something that he did, and I'm immensely proud that he did that."
Carter went on to suggest that "missions" like these are set to become more commonplace going forward:
Carter said he expects U.S. forces to be involved in more such raids against Islamic State targets, describing it as part and parcel of what the Pentagon calls a "train, advise and assist" mission in support of Iraqi forces. At one point he said, "It doesn't represent assuming a combat role" — but later, in noting that it is difficult to see the full picture of what happened during the Hawija raid, he said: "This is combat. It's complex."
We are of course not attempting to trivialize the death of Joshua Wheeler by writing this off as some kind of publicity stunt aimed at countering the Russian media blitz. In fact, the opposite is true. If the US is now set to ramp up the frequency with which the Pentagon puts American lives at stake by inserting spec ops in ground operations just so Washington can prove to the world that America is just as serious as Russia is about fighting ISIS, well then that's a crying shame for US servicemen; especially considering the role the US and its regional allies had in creating the groups that Delta Force and other units are now tasked with countering.
In any event, here's the helmet cam footage which we'll leave it to readers to analyze and critique.