IRAQ — Amid the incessant crackle of gunfire, the soldiers usher the cowering men through darkened rooms.
The men are barefoot, most of them wearing long robes, some with large stains. As voices holler at them in the darkness to move quickly, they hurry across the debris-littered floor, past the gun-wielding soldiers.
The frantic scene is from a newly released video showing parts of the mission in northern Iraq on Thursday in which U.S., Kurdish and Iraqi forces freed around 70 hostages from an ISIS-controlled prison.
The rescue of the hostages, who the Pentagon said were facing “imminent mass execution,” cost the life of one of the U.S. soldiers taking part in the operation — Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler.
A member of the U.S. Army’s elite Delta Force, Wheeler was the first American to die in combat in Iraq in nearly four years. His death has raised questions about the nature of U.S. involvement in the fight against ISIS.
‘Hold that guy there’
The new video showing scenes from the raid near Hawija, in northern Kirkuk province, was released by the Kurdistan Regional Government. A U.S. military official confirmed its source and authenticity to CNN.
It was filmed from the helmet camera of one of the Kurdish soldiers, whose gun can be seen pointing at a barred window through which a glow is emanating, possibly from a fire.
Soldiers are also seen moving around in a dark office in which a huge black-and-white ISIS flag hangs at the far end. In another scene, four men wearing robes and with their hands on their heads — presumably hostages — are ushered through a doorway and then searched.
The person wearing the body camera empties the freed men’s shirt pockets and pats them down before hurriedly moving the men farther down the hallway.
“Hold that guy there,” says one voice with an American accent. “We got more coming.”
‘Freshly dug graves’
Thirty troops from Delta Force on an “advise and assist role” participated in the raid when Kurdish commandos were overwhelmed after entering the walled compound on their own, a U.S. official with direct knowledge of details of the operation told CNN last week.
A U.S. Special Forces commander on the ground made the decision to directly engage ISIS fighters during the overnight mission, the official said. Wheeler was shot inside the compound, badly injured and flown to Irbil, where he died, according to the official.
The hostages who were freed were reported to include members of the Iraqi Security Forces, local residents and several ISIS fighters accused of spying.
U.S. officials have said the decisions were made quickly because time was believed to have been running out for the hostages.
“We knew the hostages would soon be murdered,” said Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for the U.S. military operation against ISIS.
“We knew this because we saw freshly dug graves,” he told reporters Sunday in Baghdad.