U.S. officials said the Delta team that launched the Hawijah mission had not expected to enter the compound or take part in a firefight. According to a senior defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the operation, the American forces, after reaching the area around the compound with the Kurdish forces, remained near the helicopters while the peshmerga advanced toward the compound. The militants opened fire, pinning down the Kurdish troops along the wall surrounding the compound; some were wounded. The U.S. team made a decision to advance to help the peshmerga.
Wheeler “ran to the sound of the guns, and he stood up,” Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday. During that maneuver, he was wounded.
“All the indications are it was his actions and that of one of his teammates that protected those who were involved in breaching the compound and made … the mission successful,” Carter said.
Carter said the rescued hostages reported that they had expected to be executed later that same day, following morning prayers. U.S. officials and the hostages said graves had already been dug on the militant compound.
The secretary added that he expected the United States would do more raids of this kind. “When we find opportunities to do things that will effectively prosecute the campaign, we’re going to do that,” he said. “And this is an example of a case where we could do something we alone had the capability to do, and I’m absolutely prepared to do that.”