US Navy Photo
New details about the death of Charlie Keating IV, the Navy SEAL killed by ISIS fire in Iraq on Tuesday, have come to light after the cessation of fighting near Tel Askuf, a town just north of ISIS' Iraqi capital of Mosul.
US Army Col Steve Warren, the leader of Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led mission to degrade and destroy ISIS, told reporters at the Pentagon that Keating was part of the quick reaction force (QRF) that responded to a request for help from a small group of US forces approximately two miles away from the front lines between Peshmerga and ISIS forces.
According to Warren, a team of fewer than a dozen US advise-and-assist operatives in Tel Askuf called for help after 120 or so ISIS militants poured into the area using around 20 "technicals," or commercial vehicles used to transport troops, as well as at least one bulldozer.
"After the enemy forces [punched] through the forward lines there and made their move into Tel Askuf, our forces automatically became kind of embroiled in the ensuing battle," Warren said, according to the US Naval Institute. "They rapidly called for the quick reaction force and continued on the fight until such time one service member was shot and then medevaced out."
Within two hours of receiving the call for help, Keating and the QRF were on the scene supporting the US and peshmerga forces against ISIS.
At around 9:32 a.m. Keating "was struck by direct fire, and although he was medevaced within the all-important golden hour, his wound was not survivable," according to Warren.
"No other coalition or American forces were injured, though both medevac helicopters were damaged by small arms fire," Warren added.
"He was killed by direct fire. But this was a gunfight, you know, a dynamic gun fight, so he got hit just in the course of his gun battle — whether it was a sniper or some fighter with his AK is unclear ... This was a gunfight so there were bullets everywhere," Warren explained.
A still from a Peshmerga video acquired by The Guardian shows a US Blackhawk medivac helicopter rushes to the scene of the fighting where Keating was killed. | The Guardian
The clash continued for about 14 hours, with US air support eventually dealing decisive blows against the advancing ISIS forces.
"Coalition air responded with 31 strikes taken by 11 manned aircraft and two drones. Air power destroyed 20 enemy vehicles, two truck bombs, three mortar systems, one bulldozer [and] 58 [ISIS] terrorists were killed. The Peshmerga have regained control of Tel Askuf," said Warren.
Footage of the firefight obtained by The Guardian shows the US troops fighting alongside the Peshmerga, as well as medevac helicopters rushing to the scene.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter described Keating's death as "a combat death, of course. And very sad loss."
Photos released by ISIS that show some of the technicals used in assault on Tel Askuf. | USNI
However, President Barack Obama has repeatedly avoided using the term "boots on the ground," and steered away from describing Special Operations deployments to Iraq and Syria as taking a combat role.
Instead, Obama explained on April 25 that a deployment of 250 Special Operations troops to Syria was "not going to be leading the fight on the ground, but they will be essential in providing the training and assisting local forces that continue to drive [ISIS] back."
Warren maintained that the primary role of US troops in Syria would be to advise and assist, but the events on Tuesday that left Keating and several Peshmerga soldiers dead shows just how quickly these missions can turn into full on combat.
General Wahid Kovali, the leader of a Peshmerga counter-terrorism unit that fought alongside the US forces, told The Guardian that Keating and the QRF "were very good fighters."
Keating joins Louis Cardin and Joshua Wheeler as the only three US forces killed by ISIS in Iraq.