A 42-year-old Navy sailor whose many decorations included the Bronze Star has been identified as the first member of the American armed forces to be killed in combat in Syria, the Defense Department said on Friday.
The sailor, Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott C. Dayton, lived in Woodbridge, Va., and was assigned to a bomb-disposal unit based in Virginia Beach, the Pentagon said in a news release.
American warplanes have been bombing targets inside Syria to help tens of thousands of militia fighters try to oust the Islamic State from Raqqa, the extremist group’s stronghold in the country.
More than 300 members of the United States Special Operations Forces are also in Syria to help recruit, train and advise the Kurdish and Arab fighters who are trying to encircle the Islamic State in Raqqa and ultimately retake the city.
Chief Dayton was serving with Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve and was assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Two.
“We offer our deepest condolences and sympathies to the family and friends of Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Dayton, who made the ultimate sacrifice on a day we set aside time to give thanks for our freedom and to recognize the men and women who defend that right,” Rear Adm. Brian Brakke, commander of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, said in a news release.
Chief Dayton enlisted in the Navy on Feb. 17, 1993, and received 19 awards, including the Bronze Star, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and seven Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, officials said.
He was killed in Ayn Issa, a town halfway between Raqqa and the Turkish border. Several factions have been active there, including the Syrian Kurds, the Islamic State and most recently local tribal fighters who oppose the Kurds, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist websites.
Though the Obama administration has sought to limit the number of Americans involved in the fight against the Islamic State, the death on Thursday showed how volatile and deadly the campaign against the militant group is. American service members have been killed in Iraq as well, and this month the United States acknowledged killing 119 civilians in Iraq and Syria since it began military operations against the group in 2014.