A member of the U.S. military died on Thursday near the city of Ayn Issa in northern Syria, marking the first time a U.S. service member has been killed in Syria during the current conflict, a senior defense official confirmed to ABC News today.
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U.S. Central Command announced the death in a statement, but did not identify the service member, who succumbed to wounds sustained from an improvised explosive device blast.
It is unclear what the service member's activities were in Syria. At any one time, up to 300 U.S. service members could be operating in Syria, where they are advising and assisting Syrian Kurdish and Arab rebel forces who are fighting ISIS.
"The entire counter-ISIL Coalition sends our condolences to this hero's family, friends and teammates," Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve, said in an emailed statement, referring to ISIS by another common acronym. "On this Thanksgiving, please be thankful that there are service members willing to take up the fight to protect our homeland from ISIL's hateful and brutal ideology."
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter released a statement saying that he was "deeply saddened by the news on this Thanksgiving Day that one of our brave servicemembers has been killed in Syria while protecting us from the evil of ISIL," and asked Americans to "please keep this servicemember's family, friends and teammates in your thoughts and prayers, and this Thanksgiving I hope you will join me in expressing thanks to all of our dedicated troops who selflessly protect us everyday."
In October 2015, President Barack Obama directed the Pentagon to insert special operations forces into Syria to advise and assist the Syrian opposition in its battle against ISIS militants.
The service member's death follows the death of another U.S. service member in Iraq last month. The naval officer was killed by a roadside bomb north of the Iraqi city of Mosul, where he was serving as an adviser to Iraqi troops.
The U.S. is part of a multi-nation coalition that is battling ISIS in Iraq and Syria.