Two elite Marine Raiders killed in Iraq

Two US Marines were killed on March 8 which advising and accompanying Iraqi Security Forces during a mission to eliminate ISIS.

US Army soldiers keep watch on the US embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq January 1, 2020 (photo credit: DOD/LT. COL. ADRIAN WEALE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
US Army soldiers keep watch on the US embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq January 1, 2020
Two US Marines from the elite Marine Raiders unit were killed during anti-ISIS operations in Iraq. They were killed while advising and  accompanying Iraqi Security Forces during a mission to eliminate ISIS on March 8.
The US-led Coalition Operation Inherent Resolve released information about the casualties earlier this week and the Pentagon disclosed the names of the men on Tuesday. They are Captain Moises Navas, of Germantown, Maryland and Gunnery Sergeant Diego Pongo of Simi Valley, California.
According to Stars and Stripes, they were involved in a battle to fight ISIS in a mountainous area of northern Iraq. This area is festooned with caves and ISIS members have been hiding out there since the defeat of the group in Mosul in 2017. ISIS members have been spotted near Makhmour and Mount Qarachokh over the last two years.
The US has been supporting Iraqi Security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga in the battle against ISIS since 2014. This involves a smaller footprint than in the past with the US using Security Force Assistance Brigades and other methods to aid local units. Some of the anti-ISIS operations were paused in December and January alongside the tensions with Iran. A US contractor was killed in December by a rocket fired by an Iranian-backed group.
However anti-ISIS operations have been increasing in the last weeks. Local authorities, including the Kurdistan Region have warned that ISIS is still a major threat. According to reports, Pongo and Navas were part of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion which is based in Camp Lejeune, North Caroline. Pongo and Navas both joined the Marine in 2004. The Marine Ranger Regiment described them as “intelligent, courageous and loyal,” according to Stars and Stripes.
According to reports from Iraq the raid against an ISIS cave complex, which is relatively rare, came upon a large number of ISIS members. Up to nine caves were involved and dozens of ISIS fighters. It was difficult to recover the casualties from the caves, giving some insight into the complexity of the operation. More ISIS fighters were killed in the operation, reportedly involving elite Delta Force members, to bring the remains of the Americans out.
According to Rudaw, a media channel in the Kurdish region of Iraq, the American forces had killed at least numerous ISIS members on Sunday as part of an early morning raid. Local commanders said that the battle began at 7 in the morning and could be observed from Qarachokh mountain. Warplanes and helicopters were involved. Helicopters inserted Americans in the raid and numerous other forces participated. “The fighting was intense,” according to Kurdish commanders who saw the raid.
Iraqi media channels in Arabic also said that around 25 ISIS members were killed and members of Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service were involved in the air assault on the nine caves. Other Iraqi forces have struck at ISIS members in Hamreen mountains.
The last US casualty in battle against ISIS in Iraq was in August 2019. Scott Koppenhafer, who was killed on August 10 last year, was also a Marine Raider. He was killed near Qanus island. The US dropped 80,000 tons of bombs on the island in September to neutralize the ISIS presence there.
The continued existence of ISIS in caves, rural areas and desert regions of Iraq is a concern for various authorities who are trying to keep the group in check. The US-led Coalition is facing a crossroads as to its future in Iraq due to threats and pressure from Iran. Iraq’s government lacks a prime minister. In addition the Kurdish region has warned that ISIS poses a threat from areas near Nineveh.