A British and an American soldier killed in Syria last week were on a secret mission to kill or capture a member of the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (Isil), the Pentagon has confirmed.
Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar, from Austin, Texas, and Sgt. Matt Tonroe, an SAS sniper from Manchester, died in an improvised explosive devise blast in Manbij, Syria.
The pair were killed and five other troops wounded on March 30.
Few details have been released about the circumstances, but Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Monday that they died in the top secret mission.
The US military has not said whether the IED was in a building, a vehicle or buried in the road. The troops were out of their vehicles at the time of the explosion, according to a US official. There is also no word on whether the target was found and captured or killed.
One indicator of the sensitivity of the mission was that Dunbar was identified publicly by the Army only as being "assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, N.C."
That specific language has been used in the past when troops killed in action have actually been part of the Army’s elite Delta Force, a counterterrorism unit that is not publicly identified.
CNN reported that Dunbar was assigned to Delta.
Delta Force and the Naval Special Warfare Development Group – popularly known as Seal Team Six – are among the so-called Tier One units that specialise in high-risk counterterrorism and hostage rescue missions that are rarely acknowledged.
Special operations forces have been in the Manbij area recently looking for high-value Isil operatives that may have fled to the area, the US official said.
There are currently around 2,000 US troops in Syria, who mostly work with local allies fighting Isil.
On Thursday President Donald Trump said that the US would "be coming out of Syria, like, very soon". It later emerged that he had suspended the funds for a $200 million stabilisation project in the country.
His remarks caught military leaders off guard, and were strongly criticised by Lindsey Graham, Republican senator for South Carolina.
Mr Graham warned that pulling out of Syria now, with Isil on the run, would be “the single worst decision” that the president could make.