4 Americans killed in Syria attack, ISIS claims responsibility
ISIS has claimed responsibility for a deadly explosion that killed four Americans — two US service members, a defense contractor and a Department of Defense civilian — in the Syrian city of Manbij on Wednesday, according to the US military.
All four US personnel that were killed were Americans, according to Commander Sean Robertson, a spokesman for the Pentagon.
The civilian was an intelligence expert who was with the troops hoping to collect information about security and adversaries in the area, according to three US officials.
“Two US service members, one Department of Defense (DoD)civilian and one contractor supporting DoD were killed and three service members were injured while conducting a local engagement in Manbij, Syria,” US Central Command said in a statement.
“Initial reports indicate an explosion caused the casualties, and the incident is under investigation,” the statement said.
Prior to Wednesday’s attack, only two US service members had been killed in action in Syria since the start of the campaign in 2014.
The US-led coalition confirmed earlier Wednesday that US service members were killed in the attack, but did not provide details regarding the number of casualties at the time and said the service members were “conducting a routine patrol” at the time of the explosion.
“U.S. service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today. We are still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time,” a tweet from Operation Inherent Resolve’s spokesperson said.
The names of the two US service members will be withheld for 24 hours until next of kin is notified in accordance with DOD policy, according to CENTCOM’s statement.
The ISIS-affiliated Amaq agency said the attack in the northern city of Manbij was carried out by a suicide bomber with an explosive vest.
“An explosion in Manbij’s busy market street, initial reports of casualties,” spokesman of the Manbij military council Shervan Darwish wrote on Twitter.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least eight people were killed.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump has been briefed on the situation and issued a statement on the attack later Wednesday.
“Our deepest sympathies and love go out to the families of the brave American heroes who were killed today in Syria. We also pray for the soldiers who were wounded in the attack. Our service members and their families have all sacrificed so much for our country,” it said.
The attack comes less than a month after Trump announced that US troops would withdraw from Syria. In making his announcement, Trump declared in a video released on Twitter: “We have won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”
The US has about 2,000 troops in Syria, with no specific date for their withdrawal. Last week, the US began withdrawing some military ground equipment from Syria, according to an administration official with direct knowledge of the operation.
Following Wednesday’s attack, two US officials told CNN that there are no current plans to reverse Trump’s decision to begin withdrawing US troops from Syria.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was a harsh critic of Trump’s plans to bring home US troops from Syria when the decision was announced earlier in December, said Wednesday that he is concerned that the President’s statements about withdrawing from Syria have emboldened the enemy.
“My concern, by the statements made by President Trump, is that you set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we’re fighting. You make people we’re trying to help wonder about us. And as they get bolder, the people we’re trying to help are going to get more uncertain. I saw this in Iraq. And I’m now seeing it in Syria,” Graham said during impromptu remarks at a Judiciary Committee hearing on Attorney General nominee William Barr.
“Every American wants our troops to come home, but I think all of us want to make sure that when they do come home, we’re safe,” he added. “So I would hope the President would look long at hard at where he’s headed in Syria. I know people are frustrated, but we’re never going to be safe here unless we’re willing to help people over there who will stand up against this radical ideology.”
During his surprise visit to Iraq on December 26, Trump was warned by military commanders that — despite his claims — ISIS was not entirely defeated in Syria.
Trump was told that pockets of ISIS militants remained in the Euphrates River valley and that the US military had not yet eliminated all of their strongholds. Commanders told him the US had been successful in taking back other areas but that the job was not finished.
The people familiar with the conversation described it as sobering, and said it broke through to Trump in a way his conversations with national security officials in Washington had not.
Still, it remains unclear whether Wednesday’s attack will impact Trump’s decision to pull US forces from Syria as top administration officials continue to qualify the terms and timing of a pullout — altering the President’s December 19 assertion that forces would leave “now.”
But discussions about a US withdrawal have continued this week.
Trump and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussed “ongoing cooperation in Syria as US forces begin to withdraw” during a phone call Monday, just one day after Trump threatened to “devastate Turkey economically” if the NATO-allied country attacks Kurds in the region.