Cpl. Jordan Spears
Cpl. Jordan Spears Reuters

A US Marine became the first American soldier to lose his life in the fight against the "Islamic State" terrorist group (ISIS) Saturday.

On Wednesday, 21-year-old Cpl. Jordan L. Spears and another, unidentified crew member, bailed out of his MV-22B Osprey aircraft over the Persian Gulf when it experienced severe technical problems and looked likely to crash. Pilots later managed to stabilize the aircraft and a search and rescue operation was launched to find the men.

The second crew member was successfully located, but the military announced Spears' death on Saturday after rescue teams were unable to locate his body.

The Navy and Marine Corps are investigating the cause of the incident. Pilots reportedly lost control of the aircraft shortly after takeoff from the USS Makin Island.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said the military had yet to decide how Spears' death will be classified. His crew were taking part in a mission supporting the airstrikes against ISIS, but were not directly involved in the strikes themselves.

"Clearly, that squadron and that ship were in the Gulf, supporting Central Command operations. Some of those operations included operations in Iraq and Syria, at least tangentially, through at least some tangential way, support to those missions," Kirby said.

"So there's no question that -- that this Marine's death is related to the operations that are going on, in some form or fashion."

The news comes shortly after ISIS released a video showing the execution of a fourth western hostage, British aid worker Alan Henning. As in previous execution videos, a masked, English-speaking terrorist says the murder is in revenge for US-led airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and warns that another hostage - American aid worker Peter Edward Kassig - will be beheaded next if the military operation does not stop.

US-led airstrikes have continued meanwhile, with Kurdish and Iraqi army forces in Iraq making slow but steady progress in taking back territory seized by the jihadis over the summer. In Syria, however, Kurdish fighters say airstrikes have been largely ineffective, and are appealing for more help in their desperate attempts to fend-off the Islamist advance on the key board-town of Kobane.

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