Navy SEAL Charles Keating was killed in a large-scale, intense firefight with ISIS after a surprise offensive wherein enemy fighters broke through the front lines held by U.S. Coalition Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
“This was a large fight. We think there were at least 125 enemy fighters in this coordinated, complex attack,” Col. Steve Warren, Spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters.
The firefight, which took place roughly 3½ kilometers behind the front lines, involved ISIS fighters attacking a group of Kurdish Peshmerga forces being trained and advised by U.S. service members.
Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Charles Keating IV, 31, of San Diego, was killed in action in northern Iraq May 3, a Navy statement said.
“He was killed by direct fire. This was a gunfight - a dynamic gunfight – and he got hit in the course of this gun battle. There were bullets everywhere,” Warren said.
Keating died from fatal gunshot wounds sustained in combat, during an attack by Islamic State forces on his team. Keating and elements of his team were responding to a local Peshmerga force's request for support during when they were attacked.
Keating enlisted in the Navy in February 2007 and graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training with class 266 in June 2008.
“He is an American hero. This is a reminder of what we face every day,” Warren said.
“Enemy forces punched through the forward line. Our forces became embroiled in the ensuing battle. They called for a rapid reaction force and continued to fight until one service member was shot,” he added.
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Arriving Medical Evacuation, or MEDEVAC, Black Hawk helicopters received small arms attack fire from ISIS fighter while operating in the area, Warren said.
Upon realizing that ISIS forces had breached the front lines, the U.S. Coalition responded quickly with more than 31 air attacks using F-15s, F-16s, Drones, B-52s and A-10s, Warren said.
The air strikes destroyed truck bombs, ISIS fighters and combat vehicles.
While many of the details surrounding this most recent attack remain unclear, ISIS typically uses truck bombs, bulldozers and pick-up trucks with
bolt-on weapons to attack areas of the front lines, Warren explained.
The ISIS method of attacking the Forward Line of Troops, or FLOT, follows a consistent pattern.
Once truck bombs explode the initial area of attack, bulldozers then clear debris to make room for combat vehicles to advance through the front lines. The pick-up trucks carrying ISIS fighters, called “technicals” by U.S. Coalition forces, often use make-shift bolt-on guns and side armor.
The purpose of the Quick Reaction Force was to quickly extract U.S. forces from the dangerous combat situation in the area; the forces there were purely on a train and equip or advise and assist mission to help Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the area. They were not on a combat mission or they would have stayed engaged for the remainder of the firefight, Warren explained.
U.S. advise and assist forces were on the front lines helping Kurdish Peshmerga fighters prepare for continued combat against ISIS. Following the ISIS attack, fighters from Peshmerga outpost launched various counter attacks.
A portion of the roughly 4,000 U.S. forces currently in Iraq are part of train and equip and advise and assist teams designed to help local anti-ISIS fighters train for combat, best utilize their available weapons and tactics, ensure they have enough of the right supplies and examine how they position, arrange and maneuver their fighters. The intention of the advise and assist forces is not to engage in combat, Warren said.
So far, U.S. personnel have trained as many as 22,000 Iraqi and Peshmerga fighters.
Warren explained the Quick Reaction Force as a key component to mitigating substantial battlefield losses in the event of an attack.
“The system we have in place worked. The Quick Reaction Force sprang into action and MEDEVAC did its duty to get him back to the hospital within that crucial one-hour time frame,” Warren said. “The Quick Reaction Force reacted, came to the battle and provided the additional firepower and maneuver to remove our forces.”
Overall, Warren stressed that the ISIS attack was a significant tactical event – but would not have a lasting impact. He said the attack was repelled.
Citing recent ISIS loses in Ramadi, Hit, villages near Makhmur and areas along the Euphrates river valley, Warren said the ISIS offensive attack appears to be part of a larger strategy to obscure or detract attention away from their battlefield losses.
The 15th Iraqi Division has been making progress attacking ISIS in villages on the outskirts of Mosul in the vicinity of Makhmur. ISIS has also recently lost Bashir, a small city south of Kirkuk and U.S. Coalition forces are making progress taking back a route along Highway 12, Warren said.
Also, the 73rd Iraqi brigade is now further securing the recently acquired city of Hit and coalition forces are clearing a canal in Fallujah, Warren said.
“When they have suffered several defeats in a row, they will try one of these more high-profile, high-visibility attacks to distract people’s attention away from the beat-down they are taking everywhere else,” Warren explained.
Warren said a similar ISIS offensive with hundreds of fighters took place this past December, just as ISIS was beginning to lose its hold on Ramadi.
Kris Osborn became the Managing Editor of Scout Warrior in August of 2015. His role with Scout.com includes managing content on the Scout Warrior site and generating independently sourced original material. Scout Warrior is aimed at providing engaging, substantial military-specific content covering a range of key areas such as weapons, emerging or next-generation technologies and issues of relevance to the military. Just prior to coming to Scout Warrior, Osborn served as an Associate Editor at the Military.com. This story originally appeared in Scout Warrior.