The Defense Department has identified the U.S. Army Delta Force soldier killed during a hostage rescue in Iraq as Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, Army Times reported.
Wheeler, 39, was killed by enemy gunfire during a raid to free approximately 70 hostages being held by ISIS (also know as Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh). His death marked the first American combat death since troops returned to Iraq for Operation Inherent Resolve in mid-2014.
The hostage rescue operation — which involved U.S. special operations troops along with Kurdish and Iraq forces — took place in northern Iraq’s Kirkuk province in the town of Hawija, according to CNN. At around 3 a.m., the area was bombed by coalition air power in support of two helicopters used to land in the vicinity of the makeshift prison, The Guardian reported.
Commandos entered the makeshift detention facility, killing several ISIS militants, and detaining five others, according to Army Times. Four Peshmerga soldiers were wounded in addition to Wheeler.
Wheeler joined the Army as an infantryman in 1995, later joining the 75th Ranger Regiment which he deployed with three times in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was later assigned to Army Special Operations Command where he deployed 11 times, the Army said.
Wheeler’s decorations included four Bronze Star Medals with Valor Device and seven other Bronze Star Medals. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.
Two military officials told ABC News that Wheeler was currently assigned as a team leader for the Army’s Combat Applications Group (CAG), better known as “Delta Force.”
“We deeply mourn the loss of one of our own who died while supporting his Iraqi comrades engaged in a tough fight,” Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, told the BBC.