US and British service members killed in Syria by improvised explosives
The deadly blast occurred near the northern city of Manbij, an Arab-Kurdish town not far from the border with Turkey
A US and a British service member in the US-led coalition battling Islamic State were killed by an improvised explosive device in Syria, officials said on Friday.
They are the first coalition service members to be killed or wounded in an attack this year.
Two US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity and citing initial information, said one of the people killed in the blast on Thursday was an American. They said the deadly explosion occurred near the city of Manbij in northern Syria.
Later, the British Ministry of Defence said a soldier embedded with US forces was also killed. The soldier’s family had been informed, the ministry said.
Earlier on Friday, a coalition statement said two service members had been killed and five wounded in Syria, but did not provide their nationalities.
The wounded were evacuated for treatment, according to the statement. The explosion – the result of a roadside bomb, according to CBS News – happened on Thursday night, the statement said.
Manbij has largely been cleared of IS militants and is significant because Turkey, which stormed the northern Syrian town of Afrin after an offensive against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, has repeatedly threatened to push its operations farther east to Manbij.
About 10 coalition personnel have been killed in non-combat-related incidents since January 1, including seven Americans who died in a helicopter crash in Iraq this month.
IS militants continue to carry out bombings, ambushes and assassinations in Syria and Iraq despite the collapse last year of the cross-border “caliphate” declared in 2014 by their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose whereabouts are unknown.
The United States says it has about 5,200 troops in Iraq, deployed alongside Iraqi armed forces. Some 2,000 US troops are in Syria, allied to a Kurdish-led group that holds the largest swathe of territory still outside the control of forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
The death of the American service member came a day after US President Donald Trump said the United States would be leaving Syria “very soon.”
The State Department said it was not aware of any plans to withdraw from Syria. Senior officials have said there is a need for a longer-term US commitment in Syria.
Last year, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said he expected to see a larger US civilian presence in Syria, including contractors and diplomats, as the fight against Islamic State militants nears its end and the focus turns toward rebuilding and ensuring the militants do not return.
Mattis has previously said that US forces would stay in Syria as long as Islamic State fighters want to fight and prevent the return of an “ISIS 2.0”.