As more U.S. troops arrive, increased risk from ISIS attacks in Iraq

Navy SEAL Charles Keating died in a firefight with Islamic State militants in northern Iraq on Tuesday. His death comes as the U.S. is moving in more troops and materiel to support the Iraqi military offensive against the terror group. Hari Sreenivasan talks to Loveday Morris of The Washington Post for more on the situation in Iraq and the circumstances of Keating’s death.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    There were more details today about the death of Navy SEAL Charles Keating in a firefight yesterday with ISIS militants in Northern Iraq.

    The U.S. has moved in more troops and materiel recently to support Iraqi military efforts against the group. At the same time, there is political turmoil in Baghdad, where the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is facing challenges from rival Shia groups.

    For more, I'm joined now by The Washington Post's Baghdad bureau chief, Loveday Morris. She just returned from the front lines in Northern Iraq.

    Loveday Morris, thanks for joining us.

    You were near the front lines of this battle. Describe the situation there. What did you see?

  • LOVEDAY MORRIS, The Washington Post:

    What we are seeing on the front lines at the moment is an increased U.S. troop presence outside of the more established Iraqi bases.

    The line where I was at, south of Mosul, now there's a U.S. artillery base which is relatively close to the front lines. And the problem with these front lines are that, that scrappy line, you have suicide bombers penetrating the lines regularly.

    So, as we see more troops, more U.S. troops coming, there were more announced by the president, there is an increased risk for them.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What do you know now about how this SEAL died?

  • LOVEDAY MORRIS:

    What the Pentagon is saying that, at around 7:30 a.m., a large-scale ISIS attack broke through the Kurdish Peshmerga at the line.

    These Navy SEALs, they came as a part of a rapid reaction force, and this SEAL sadly died while trying to assist them.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Yesterday, the secretary of defense said that this was a combat death. But then the White House said this soldier wasn't on a combat mission.

    How would you describe what U.S. forces are doing on the ground in Iraq?

  • LOVEDAY MORRIS:

    I think a lot of people are confused, and I can see why.

    The problem is, if you have U.S. forces dotted along front lines that are scrappy front lines, and getting entangled when there are ISIS attacks, calling for assistance, and then becoming involved in firefights, I mean, is that — do you clock that as combat, or do you clock that as advise and assist?

    The Iraqis that were around — we talked to a lot of Iraqis that were around when this incident happened actually on Tuesday, and they actually seemed to be under the impression that these SEALs were assisting them take back the town. They seemed to think that they were part of a counteroffensive to take back the town.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    We have seen quite a bit of protests and demonstrations against the Iraqi government, due to corruption and lack of services.

    What's the political situation like, and how is that affecting what's happening on the battlefield?

  • LOVEDAY MORRIS:

    At the moment, the political situation is a big worry.

    There's a worry that it's going to delay plans for any Mosul offensive. The prime minister, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, he is the commander in chief of the armed forces. He's America's main partner when it comes to fighting ISIS on the ground in Iraq.

    His position is in question. He's fighting for his political survival. Everyone's very worried about the potential for a political vacuum. That would have a huge impact on the U.S.' campaign. They're here at the invitation of the Iraqi government. What happens if you have a power vacuum here? It's definitely a big concern for them.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Loveday Morris of The Washington Post, joining us via Skype from Baghdad, thanks so much.

  • LOVEDAY MORRIS:

    Thank you.

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