US Marine killed in IS rocket attack in northern Iraq

A US Marine was killed on Saturday and others wounded in an Islamic State (IS) rocket attack against forces massing to retake Mosul in northern Iraq. The attack came at a military base near the city of Makhmour in Nineveh province, where forces are preparing for the expected assault on the IS-held city.

“Earlier today a US Marine providing force protection fire support at a recently established coalition fire base near Makhmur in northern Iraq was killed after coming under ISIL (IS) rocket fire,” a Pentagon statement said. “Several other Marines were wounded and they are being ‎treated for their varying injuries.”

Makhmur is a district about 70 kilometres southeast of the main IS hub of Mosul, within territory controlled by the autonomous northern region of Kurdistan.

Nicholas A. Heras, a Middle East researcher at the Centre for a New American Security said: “US soldiers conducting advise-and-assist missions with anti-ISIS forces in Iraq, even when working away from the frontlines, are in a warzone. The attack on the Makhmour base is a harassment raid. It is by no means a game-changer, however it serves as a warning that IS can still strike back at coalition forces.”

“In this context, ISIS is trying to send a message that it can still strike the Americans at any time, even where they sleep,” Heras said.

The American death is the second since the US began advising Iraqi forces and operating against IS militants in northern Iraq. The first was killed in a joint Kurdish-US special operations raid to free prisoners held by IS in Hawija, in Kirkuk, last October.

The Iraqi army has been deploying thousands of troops to the city of Makhmour since February to prepare for joint operations with the Kurds and the US coalition to drive IS from Mosul.

The Peshmerga official told MEE that the area is “a very dangerous place… it is only 10km or 12km from IS”.

Early this month, four Iraqi soldiers were killed and at least 23 wounded in an IS rocket attack on their base near Makhmour, the Kurdish news agency Rudaw reported.

Peshmerga commander Najat Ali had warned in an interview with Rudaw that the location was unsafe and open to rocket attacks.

US experts suggest the incident is a sign of more advanced IS attacks. “IS long-range rocket attacks have been getting more and more accurate,” Michael Knights, an Iraq military analyst and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told MEE.

“They might have used drones to correct the fire and they might have observed the US on site,” he said.

In December, IS published a video with drone footage of a rocket attack on the Turkish Zelkan military base in Bashiq, Iraq, where Turkish soldiers are stationed.

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