The combat death of a U.S. Navy SEAL who was advising Kurdish forces in Iraq coincides with a gradually deepening American role in fighting a resilient Islamic State, even as the Iraqis struggle to muster the military and political strength to defeat the militants.
Over the course of the nearly two-year-old campaign, the Pentagon has slowly expanded the American military role. The strategy, criticized by some as incremental and inadequate, aims to ensure that the Iraqis do the ground combat, supported by U.S. airpower, special operations advisers and others.
As the Iraqis have gained competence and confidence and prepared an assault in hopes of retaking Mosul, the Pentagon has announced plans to put more U.S. troops in Iraq and place them closer to the front lines.
In Defense Secretary Ash Carter's view, that means a greater chance for success. It also means more risk to U.S. troops, as he acknowledged Tuesday in announcing the latest death, the third of an American service member in combat in Iraq since the U.S.-led coalition launched its campaign against the Islamic State in the summer of 2014.
"It shows you it's a serious fight that we have to wage in Iraq," Carter said.
The SEAL was identified Tuesday as Charlie Keating IV, 31, who grew up in Phoenix and attended the Naval Academy before becoming a SEAL based out of Coronado, California. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said Keating died in an Islamic State group attack near the city of Irbil.