Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Friday that the United States would continue to participate in military missions similar to one earlier this week in which an American soldier was killed, but refused to call the ramped up support "ground combat."
"Earlier this week, we were reminded that there will be risks to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, that they face in Iraq, there and across the world," Carter said of the hostage rescue mission, which he called a "unique event."
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"This is an example of a case where we could do something that we alone had the capability to do," he said.
Sgt. Joshua Wheeler was killed during the rescue of 70 hostages in Iraq whose "mass execution was imminent," Carter said.
"We have now heard from rescued hostages," he said. "They expected to be executed that day, after morning prayers. Their graves had already been prepared."
While he mourned the loss of Wheeler, Carter affirmed that the U.S. would enhance its support of anti-Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL) missions in the Middle East, especially in unique cases such as "raids."
"As local forces continue to prove their commitment to an inclusive future for their country, we are correspondingly committed to enhancing the support we provide," he said.
However, Carter stressed that the additional support would not "represent a change in strategy," rather, it would represent "a change in our approach to achieving it [the strategy]."
"It doesn't represent us assuming a combat role. It represents a continuation of our advise-and-assist mission," he said.
"We will continue to work on all of the so-called ‘nine lines of effort’ of the counter-ISIL campaign, including counter-finance, counter-messaging, and interdicting foreign fighters," he said. "As I've stressed repeatedly, we're committed to supporting these partners but cannot serve as a substitute for them."
Wheeler was the first American soldier to die in combat in Iraq since November 2011.