At least 14 American military personnel have been wounded in combat since the start of October while battling Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, according to Defense Department data reviewed by Military Times.
The sudden increase accounts for nearly half of the 30 wounded-in-action reports that the U.S. has publicly acknowledged since the ISIS campaign began in August 2014, and coincides with two ongoing offensives targeting the terror group's strongholds in both countries: Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, the Islamic State's self-declared capital.
Although comparatively small when measured against monthly casualty reports from the height of America's full-scale conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the numbers suggest that more U.S. troops are being sent closer to the Islamic State's front lines to direct or help local forces who are in the lead. It's a sensitive topic for the Pentagon and the White House, which has made painstaking efforts to minimize any perception that American forces are actively engaged in ground combat despite steadily increasing force levels in both theaters where now more than 5,500 U.S. troops are deployed.
At least eight American troops have been killed in action since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve, according to figures maintained in the Defense Casualty Analysis System, a comprehensive database charting American combat casualty information dating to the Revolutionary War. The most recent occurred Nov. 24 in a Syrian villagelocated north of Raqqa. Another 23 Americans have died in nonhostile incidents while supporting the war on ISIS.
Of the 14 wounded-in-action reports since October, eight stem from unspecified incidents recorded in December. That's the highest monthly tally since March 2016.
Citing Defense Department policy, a Pentagon spokesman declined to elaborate on the spike in casualty reports or the scope of any recent injuries, saying only that it "should not be considered to be the result of one incident, or even a series of closely-related incidents."
"The Department of Defense does not routinely release detailed information regarding service members who are wounded in action," said Army Lt. Col. Myles Caggins III. "This is due to concerns about operational security and about releasing health information that may be protected" under federal privacy laws.
Among the 30 troops who've been wounded in action while battling ISIS, 15 are Marines, according to Defense Department data. The remaining 15 incidents involve 11 Army personnel, three from the Navy and one from the Air Force.
Eight of the 15 cases involving Marines occurred last March, after the U.S. established a fire base on the fringe of ISIS-held territory near Mosul. One Marine was killed by a rocket attack that wounded four others there. It's unclear how or precisely where the other four Marines were wounded that month, although the fire base did experience repeated attacks until their task force pulled out in June.
Another six Marines were among the eight U.S. troops wounded throughout December, according to Defense Department data. One appears to be Staff Sgt. Patrick Maloney, whom friends, family and fellow Marines have identified as a dog handler assigned to the service's elite 2nd Raider Battalion out of Camp Lejeune in eastern North Carolina. Maloney, whose condition was publicized by friends seeking to raise money for the Marine's family, suffered a head injury as a result of enemy action in Iraq on Dec. 30, an acquaintance of his told Military Times this week.
It's unclear specifically where in Iraq that incident occurred. U.S. officials will not acknowledge it, nor will they confirm that any Marine Raiders are operating there as part of the counter-ISIS campaign. It's been reported previously that elements of other elite special operations units — namely the Navy SEALs and the Army's Delta Force — are active on these battlefields.
"We do not discuss specifics of special operations personnel in the interest of operational security," a military spokesperson in Baghdad said via email.
Officials with Marine Special Operations Command in North Carolina have not addressed questions posed by Military Times seeking details about the the Raiders' activity as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.
As the battles for Mosul and Raqqa intensify, the U.S. has dispatched additional military advisers to assist allies fighting in and around each city.
In Iraq, the number of coalition advisers has doubled to about 450, Air Force Col. John Dorrian said Wednesday. They include special operations forces, combat engineers and intelligence specialists, troops who are closely partnered with Iraqi units fighting to retake the city. Some have been sent inside Mosul, he added.
"They're with [Iraqi] headquarters elements in most cases," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Thursday, noting at least one instance in which U.S. advisers have been partnered with an Iraqi army battalion. "With the conventional Iraqi forces, they're providing advice and assistance at the division levels with the leadership. ... Some of those headquarters elements are moving as the forward line of troops moves, and certainly there are Iraqi commanders who are closer to Mosul now than they were previously.
"I want to make clear that not all these folks are specifically tied to Mosul," Cook added. "We have advisers right now, for example, in Baghdad. We have advisers at various locations, installations that may be supporting Mosul. I mentioned Qayyarah again, Camp Swift," both of which are south of Mosul.
In Syria, there are about 500 American troops closely partnered with militias battling to reclaim territory from the Islamic State. The last increase, totaling 200 U.S. troops, was announced by Defense Secretary Ash Carter in early December.
Andrew deGrandpre is Military Times' senior editor and Pentagon bureau chief. On Twitter: