NBC News has obtained a video showing first-person footage of last week’s U.S. Delta Force–supported raid on an ISIS prison in Iraq. The video, which purportedly comes from the helmet camera of a Kurdish Peshmerga soldier who participated in the raid, shows ISIS hostages being freed while gunfire echoes in the background. The Kurdistan Region Security Council has also released the video on their YouTube channel:
The Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff, a former Marine infantryman, explains what we’re seeing:
Evident from the four-minute clip is the the professionalism of the joint force as they move methodically through the compound, searching hostages and moving them, most likely, to the waiting helicopters for extraction. The searches, while seeming redundant, are more than likely to ensure that the enemy hasn’t infiltrated the prisoner population with a suicide vest or other weapon. …
The only other significant portion of the video shows the commandos moving a number of hostages to safety across what appears to be a “danger area,” usually defined as an exposed piece of terrain that acts as a focal point for enemy fire. The footage shows Kurdish and U.S. forces laying down covering fire while the prisoners move to safety — some are visibly bloodied. As the soldiers and prisoners move, parts of the structure are clearly burning outside, most likely from the concentrated airstrikes that were conducted at the beginning of the raid. According to U.S. officials, after the commandos and hostages departed from the area, an additional set of airstrikes destroyed the compound.
Some 70 prisoners were freed in the raid, but U.S. Army Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, a highly decorated, 14-deployment veteran and member of the elite Delta Force, was killed in the operation. He is the first U.S. service member to be killed in action in Iraq since 2011. According to the New York Times, Wheeler, 39, was part of a team of ten to twenty Delta Force operators supporting Peshmerga forces during the raid, but Wheeler intervened after the operation stalled, and was subsequently killed by ISIS fighters when he and another American were the first rescuers to breach the compound. Wheeler was the only member of the operation to be killed, though some Peshmerga fighters were reportedly wounded as well.
U.S. Defense secretary Ashton Carter said on Friday that the impetus for the raid was that aerial photographs had shown newly dug mass graves at the compound, suggesting the hostages were about to be killed. The operation was originally intended to save Kurdish fighters being held at the prison, as well as, according to a McClatchy’s report, “former officials from Saddam Hussein’s Baath party and military who’d cooperated with the Islamic State but were no longer trusted by the jihadists.” However, no Kurds were among those rescued, and it is not yet clear if any of the other intended rescuees were there, either. So far, no additional information about the men freed in the raid appears to have been released.