UK, US name soldiers killed fighting ISIS in Syria

LONDON/WASHINGTON (AFP, WASHINGTON) - Britain and the United States have named the two soldiers who were killed in Syria while on an operation against ISIS militants.

The 33-year-old British serviceman, from the elite Special Air Service unit, has been named as Sergeant Matt Tonroe and praised as a "daring and fearless" soldier.

He is the first British soldier killed in combat fighting the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) group.

Sergeant Tonroe was embedded with US forces when they were caught by an improvised explosive device last Thursday, the Ministry of Defence said on Saturday (March 31).

The sergeant, from Manchester in northwest England, had previously served in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

The blast happened in the northern Syrian city of Manbij, US and British officials said. A US soldier was also killed and five other coalition personnel wounded.

The Pentagon identified the US service member as Master Sergeant Jonathan Dunbar, 36, of Austin. He is the second American service member killed in action in Syria since the United States began backing local forces in a conflict President Donald Trump has vowed to leave.

Master Sergeant Dunbar joined the Army in 2005 and was deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq. He was assigned to the headquarters of US Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 2013. He earned three Bronze Star Medals.

The headquarters designation for soldiers assigned to the command has been linked to the Army’s secretive Delta Force counterterrorism unit.

Since 2014, the coalition has provided weapons, training and other support to forces fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Sergeant Tonroe's commanding officer, who was not named by the British Defence Ministry, said the sergeant was a "deeply intelligent man and one of life's characters".

"He had a steel core, served his country with pride and was a first class soldier, proven in combat, faced risk willingly and was ever ready for more," the commanding officer said. "He thus died as he lived: daring and fearless in duty. We mourn his loss dearly."

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said Sergeant Tonroe had served Britain with "great distinction" and was exceptionally courageous.

"Sergeant Tonroe fought to protect British values, our freedoms and to keep us back at home safe. His sacrifice, unflinching commitment and bravery will never be forgotten," he said.

The deaths occurred about two hours after Mr Trump promised in a speech in Ohio to withdraw the roughly 2,000 US troops in Syria “very soon” and “let the other people take care of it".

Mr Trump has been pressing for the removal of US troops from Syria, saying it makes little sense for the country to have so many forces in Syria if it has all but won the war against the ISIS. His remarks were not planned, and it was not clear what prompted him to mention Syria in a speech about infrastructure.

One administration official said it could be a year or longer before such a move happens.

The president’s advisers have persuaded him to stay for now to prevent the ISIS from reemerging and to lay the groundwork for a potential peace agreement that would be beneficial to the US.

Syria's seven-year war has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions.

Syria's army promised last Saturday to finish off fighters in the final opposition holdout of devastated Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus after a penultimate pocket was declared empty of rebels.