The first American to die in combat operations against ISIS has been identified as Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler of Roland, Okla. Officials say the 39-year-old Delta Force commando was shot to death in a firefight during a raid that freed at least 70 ISIS captives, including 20 members of the Iraqi Security Forces, in northeastern Iraq on Thursday, reports NBC News and the Sequoyah County Times. A husband and father of four boys, Wheeler joined the Army in 1995 after graduating high school, and moved up the ranks from infantryman to rifle team leader, squad leader, weapons squad leader, and anti-tank section leader. He was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq three times before joining the US Army Special Operations Command in 2004. He was then deployed 11 times in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Times reports that relatives of Wheeler, who was based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, have traveled to that state, where Wheeler will be buried. In speaking about the Thursday raid, a defense official tells CBS News that a "call was made on the ground" for US forces to intervene when the Kurdish region's organized militia, known as the peshmerga, fell under ISIS fire. A Pentagon press secretary calls the mission a peshmerga rescue operation and says it was "consistent with our counter-(ISIS) effort to train, advise, and assist Iraqi forces." He adds that Defense Secretary Ash Carter approved the mission because "lives were at risk," per ABC News. "It is always a tragedy when we lose one of our own," a military rep says. "In the end, we saved 70 people from execution that was planned in a few hours." The Army Times reports four peshmerga soldiers were also wounded.