• Terrorists in homemade gun trucks staged a surprise assault
  • Pentagon spokesman calls attack one of the largest recently

A convoy of homemade gun trucks and a bulldozer was all it took for about 125 Islamic State fighters to stage the assault that killed a Navy SEAL in northern Iraq, according to the U.S. military’s top spokesman in Baghdad.

QuickTake Fighting Islamic State

The terrorist forces improvise “Jed Clampett” vehicles where “they will bolt a machine gun onto the hood of a pickup truck, or a Gremlin, or whatever,” Colonel Steve Warren said in a video conference Wednesday, referring to the patriarch of the Clampett family from the 1960’s situation comedy “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Yet “it was a big fight, one of the largest we’ve seen recently,” Warren said. “This was a gunfight, you know.” Charles H. Keating IV, a U.S. Navy SEAL who was part of a “quick reaction force” dispatched to extract American advisers from the fighting in a town north of Mosul, was shot and killed in the confrontation, he said.

‘In Combat’

Warren’s account underscored the risks faced by the more than 4,000 U.S. military personnel whose assignment is often described as training, advising and equipping Iraqi forces. While President Barack Obama and his aides continue to insist that the U.S. troops aren’t on a “combat mission” in Iraq, Defense Secretary Ash Carter has underscored that Keating and two other Americans killed there have died “in combat.”

The attack north of Mosul also demonstrated that Islamic State remains a resourceful foe capable of lethal attacks even though the U.S. and coalition partners enjoy air supremacy over Iraq, with thousands of intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance sorties flown.

“You can’t observe every inch of Earth every moment of the day,” Warren said. “There’s not enough eyeballs to watch it anyways. So in this case the enemy conducted -- at least initially -- a successful attack.”

Islamic State fighters in 20 makeshift armed vehicles and bulldozers surprised a Kurdish Peshmerga force and American advisers who were meeting with them. After an intense gun battle erupted with “bullets everywhere,” Warren said, the terrorists were pummeled by 31 coalition strikes by 11 manned aircraft and two drones.

“Air power destroyed 20 enemy vehicles, two truck bombs, three mortar systems, one bulldozer; 58 ISIL terrorists were killed,” Warren said, using an acronym for Islamic State. “The Peshmerga have regained control” of the town.

Keating, 31, was the grandson of the late Charles H. Keating, whose leadership of a California savings and loan made him the face of a U.S. banking crisis in the 1980s and ultimately led to a prison sentence.

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