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World

U.S. Service Member Killed As ISIS Attacks Iraqi Kurdish Forces

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A third American service member has been killed in Iraq in the effort to take on the Islamic State. This time it was a Navy SEAL who was supporting the Kurdish forces north of the Iraqi city of Mosul. Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the announcement to reporters while on a trip to Europe.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ASH CARTER: An American service member has been killed in Iraq. It is a combat death, of course.

CORNISH: Combat - NPR's Tom Bowman reports that's a word both the Pentagon and the White House have been reluctant to use.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The Navy SEAL was killed by small arms fire after ISIS fighters infiltrated the Kurdish frontlines by as many as three miles. The Islamic State also used car bombs as part of their assault, officials say. The Americans responded with some two dozen airstrikes by F-15 warplanes and drones. The fighting continued throughout the day.

The Navy SEAL was the third American killed in the effort to defeat ISIS. All three died in Northern Iraq. An American Green Beret was killed last fall when he accompanied Kurdish forces liberating an ISIS prison, and in March, a Marine sergeant was killed by an ISIS rocket while at a combat outpost manning an artillery piece.

American officials initially insisted that the nearly 5,000 Americans were there to advise and assist Iraqi forces and no one was on a combat mission or taking on a combat role. White House Spokesman Josh Earnest was asked whether the latest death means that U.S. troops are moving closer to danger, closer to combat. Earnest acknowledged Iraq and Syria are dangerous places.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSH EARNEST: But the president's been clear time and time again exactly what their mission is. That mission is to support Iraqi forces on the ground who are taking the fight to ISIL on the front lines. Iraqi forces must fight for their own country.

BOWMAN: But some Americans already are on the front lines. Hundreds of special operations forces were given the mission to hunt down ISIS leaders. That means closer to the fight. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.