WASHINGTON — A Navy SEAL who was killed in a raid targeting a remote compound used by al-Shabab militants in Somalia was identified Saturday as Kyle Milliken of Falmouth, Maine.
Milliken, 38, is the first U.S. service member killed in combat in Somalia since the infamous “Black Hawk Down” battle in 1993 that left 18 U.S. military personnel dead, including two from Maine, according to the Pentagon.
Officials said the U.S. force was accompanying Somali National Army soldiers during an assault on an al-Shabab compound near Barij, about 40 miles west of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, when they came under attack before dawn Friday.
The al-Shabab militants were “associated with some attacks on facilities that we use and that our Somali partners use nearby,” said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
He said the Americans were there to “advise and assist” the Somali government troops and were not part of the team assigned to enter the compound. Milliken had been assigned to a special warfare unit based on the U.S. East Coast.
After U.S. helicopters dropped Somali troops outside the compound, a firefight broke out. The Americans couldn’t take cover immediately and were hit during an “early phase of the mission,” Davis said.
Two other troops and an American-Somali translator were wounded in the raid that killed Milliken, officials said.
“Today our hearts are heavy with the loss of U.S. Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken — a local hero who died yesterday in the line of duty,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said in a statement Saturday.
“Those who knew Senior Chief Kyle Milliken remember him as an amazing athlete who could do flips on skis and run for miles. He graduated from Cheverus High School as one of their top track stars,” Pingree said. “After his college graduation, he felt the call to serve and enlisted as a U.S. Navy SEAL. For many years, he operated with the elite Seal Team 6.
“We will forever be grateful for Senior Chief Milliken’s selfless service to our nation and his commitment to a cause bigger than himself. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Milliken family and those who knew Senior Chief Milliken from his early days in Falmouth. May we never forget his extraordinary bravery and incredible sacrifice.”
In a joint statement, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said they are “deeply saddened to learn of the death of Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Kyle Milliken. He defended our nation with bravery and with distinction, and his sacrifice will never be forgotten. We hope that his family and loved ones are comforted in knowing that the people of Maine and our nation are eternally grateful for his selfless service.”
A statement from U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District also expressed sadness at the loss of Milliken. “A Falmouth native, loving father and husband, Kyle bravely served our Nation with honor and distinction,” Poliquin said, adding, “My thoughts and prayers are with Kyle’s wife and two children in this difficult time.”
Gov. Paul LePage offered his gratitude and condolences as well.
“On behalf of all Mainers, to the family and loved ones of Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Kyle Milliken, there are no words that may provide comfort during this difficult time, but know he is a man we are forever indebted [to] for his service, sacrifice and protection of the freedoms we hold dear.”
The episode comes as the U.S. military expands operations against al-Shabab, which is allied with al-Qaida. The group has carried out lethal bombings and attacks across Somalia and neighboring Kenya for more than a decade.
Last month, the White House granted the Pentagon broader authority than during the Obama administration to launch airstrikes and conduct operations against al-Shabab.
But Davis said the Barij raid was carried out “under the same authorities that we’ve had since we began our operations there in 2013, which is to advise and assist on these types of missions.”
U.S. Africa Command has provided intelligence, training and logistical support to the Somali army and to African Union troops battling al-Shabab since 2013. Hundreds of U.S. special forces rotate through Somalia annually.
U.S. drone strikes have killed several of al-Shabab’s top commanders, according to U.S. assessments.
The Sunni Muslim militia overran Mogadishu in 2006 after its fighters ousted local warlords. The group then enforced strict Islamic law; it was illegal to play soccer or listen to music.
African Union troops retook Mogadishu in 2011 and drove al-Shabab from many towns in the south, including major ports that had provided significant revenue. But the militants remain a potent force in some rural areas.
Milliken was the fourth U.S. service member killed in combat in eight days.
Two Army Rangers — Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers, 22, of Bloomington, Illinois, and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas, 23, of Kettering, Ohio — died during a battle against Islamic State fighters in eastern Afghanistan on April 27. Two days later, 1st Lt. Weston C. Lee, 25, of Bluffton, Georgia, died during fighting to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State.
Two Mainers died in the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” incident. U.S. Army Special Forces Master Sgt. Gary Gordon, 33, of Lincoln was killed when he tried to defend the crew of one of the helicopters shot down by Somali militia. Gordon was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
The other fatality was Army Sgt. Thomas Field, 25, of Lisbon, Maine.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC.