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Reported Syrian rebel shooting of US Marine hasn’t undermined partnership, coalition says

Cpl. Cameron Halkovich (left), a combat engineer attached to 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, assists another Marine up a steep hill during an urban assault at Range 200 aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, May 16, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jesus Sepulveda Torres)

The shooting of a U.S. Marine by a member of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in February does not reflect the partner force’s commitment to the anti-Islamic State mission in Syria, the military said Thursday.

“We continue to work by, with and through our partners to achieve the lasting defeat of ISIS in designated parts of Iraq and Syria,” Operation Inherent Resolve officials said in a statement.

The previously undisclosed insider attack was apparently the first during the anti-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria. It was first reported Wednesday by Task & Purpose, a military news website, in an account based largely on anonymous sources and award citations. It was not clear why the shooting — a so-called green-on-blue attack — in an undisclosed outpost in Syria, had not been divulged earlier since the Pentagon regularly reports such incidents in Afghanistan.

Central Command referred an inquiry from Stars and Stripes to Inherent Resolve, which said in an email that an investigation into the shooting had been completed but would have to be obtained by request under the Freedom of Information Act. The coalition declined to provide further comment.

“Until we have thoroughly reviewed the redacted report, we have no specific details to offer on this incident,” the statement said.

The website report said Marine Sgt. Cameron Halkovich and Cpl. Kane Downey were checking perimeter security on Feb. 17, when Halkovich was shot by an SDF member who had apparently been lying in wait.

Downey shot the SDF soldier, killing him.

The Marines, a small contingent from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, out of Twentynine Palms, Calif., had mainly been keeping watch over a “mission support site” in eastern Syria’s Deir al-Zour province.

After checking on Halkovich and finding him with two 7.62 mm bullet wounds through his left leg, Downey applied a tourniquet and fireman-carried him to an Army surgical facility, according to an award citation signed by Inherent Resolve commander Lt. Gen. Paul Funk and seen by Task & Purpose.

Halkovich was later evacuated. The Marines of 2/7 continued to live at the base side-by-side with Syrian fighters.

The Marines returned home in April, the same month Halkovich was awarded a Purple Heart for his wounds. For his part in saving Halkovich’s life, Downey received a Joint Service Commendation Medal.

Though photos of Halkovich receiving the Purple Heart were posted to the Defense Department photo and video website DVIDS, details of how or where he was wounded were not provided.

There have been no other reported insider attacks in Syria during the campaign, which began in August 2014.

In the past several months, the anti-ISIS war has wound down significantly, after Syrian government forces cleared out a key terrorist enclave along the borders with Israel and Jordan. Officials have said the last ISIS pockets along the Euphrates River valley could be destroyed in the coming months.

Paul Szoldra, the writer of the Task & Purpose story, tweeted that Central Command leader Gen. Joseph Votel declined to discuss the February incident with reporters on Thursday, saying he wanted to review the details, and that he was not aware of any other insider attacks.


© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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