Officials from the Defense Department on Tuesday identified the two men as Gunnery Sgt. Diego D. Pongo, 34, of Simi Valley, California; and Capt. Moises A. Navas, 34, of Germantown, Maryland.
The pair were killed while supporting Iraqi Security Forces in northern Iraq, the Pentagon said in a statement. A news release from the anti-ISIS Operation Inherent Resolve coalition over the weekend said the U.S. troops were accompanying Iraq security forces “during a mission to eliminate an ISIS terrorist stronghold” in the region reported Military.com.
A senior Iraqi official told The Associated Press the joint mission was ambushed by ISIS terrorists. The pair reportedly fell into a crevice and had to be pulled out with a hoist, a military official told The New York Times.
Col. Myles B. Caggins III, a spokesman for the American-led coalition, said that troops had to deploy more forces to recover the dead in a mission that lasted about six hours, according to The New York Times.
“The forces trekked through mountainous terrain and eliminated four hostile ISIS fighters who were barricaded in the caves,” he said.
The Iraqi military said in a statement that at least 25 Islamic State fighters were killed a training camp and tunnels and were destroyed.
The Pentagon said the incident is under investigation.
Pongo and Navas were both assigned to the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, which is part of the Marine Forces Special Operations Command out of military training facility Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
Pongo joined the Corps in 2004 and became a a Marine Raider in 2011, completing deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a release from the Marine Forces Special Operations Command.
Pongo is survived by his daughter and parents.
Navas also joined the Corps in 2004 and became a Marine Raider in 2016. He had recently been selected for promotion to Major.
Navas is survived by his wife, daughter, three sons, parents, and brother.
The battalion’s commanding officer Col. John Lynch extended his condolences to the families of the slain Marines.
“The loss of these two incredible individuals is being felt across our organization, but it cannot compare to the loss that their families and teammates are experiencing,” he said in a statement.
“Both men epitomize what it means to be a Marine Raider. They were intelligent, courageous, and loyal. They were dedicated leaders, true professionals in their craft, and willing to go above and beyond for the mission and their team.”
There are roughly 5,200 U.S. troops deployed to Iraq to fight the remnants of ISIS, which controlled large swaths of Syria and Iraq until several years ago, according to Military.com. The Pentagon has said it wants to reduce the number of forces in Iraq to about 2,500.
In January, after a U.S. air strike that killed high-ranking Iranian officer Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the U.S.-led mission in Iraq suspended its counter-ISIS mission for about two weeks.
The last American who was killed in Iraq was in August 2019, when Marine Gunnery Sgt. Scott A. Koppenhafer died on a joint Iraqi-United States mission in Nineveh Province.
Jack Phillips contributed to this report.