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Pentagon investigating Marine Raider’s death as possible friendly fire

Gunnery Sgt. Scott A. Koppenhafer, 35, of Mancos, Colorado, died Aug. 10, 2019 while accompanying Iraqi security forces on a planned operation in Ninewah province, Iraq. (Marine Corps Special Operations Command/Released)
August 13, 2019

The U.S. military is probing the death of a Marine Raider on Saturday to determine if friendly fire caused his death.

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Scott A. Koppenhafer, 35, was killed by “enemy small-arms fire while conducting combat operations” alongside Iraqi Security Forces as a part of the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition, but his death is under investigation to determine if the gunfire came from Iraqi or U.S. forces, defense officials told The Wall Street Journal on Monday.

Koppenhafer was a critical skills operator for the past 10 years of his 14 year Marine Corps career and was assigned to the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, Marine Forces Special Operations Command, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

He was the recipient of two Bronze Stars and two Combat Action Ribbons stemming from his actions in four deployments to Afghanistan and was named Marine Forces Special Operations Command’s Critical Skills Operator of the Year in 2018.

Koppenhafer is the first U.S. Marine to die in Iraq this year, though the first service member to die in combat this year.

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He is at least the fifth service member to die in Iraq since June 2014 when U.S. forces were deployed following the ISIS takeover of Mosul, The Wall Street Journal noted. At that time, a U.S-Iraqi coalition was formed to combat ISIS.

Two other U.S. service members died in Iraq earlier this year.

Army Spc. Michael T. Osorio died in a noncombat incident on April 23 in Taji, Iraq, according to a Department of Defense press release.

Just days earlier, Army Spc. Ryan Dennis Orin Riley died in a noncombat incident on April 20 in Ninawa Province, Iraq, according to a DOD press release.

Approximately 5,200 U.S. troops remain in Iraq where they support and train Iraqi Security Forces and carry out counterterrorism efforts as ISIS continues to be a threat to the region.

A report from the Pentagon Inspector General’s office released earlier this year said that ISIS was planning a resurgence in the region, despite lost territory in Iraq and Syria, Fox News reported in January.

The report noted ISIS had lost all territory in Iraq, but described the “effective clandestine” resurgence that ISIS was planning underground to reclaim territory in Iraq and Syria, confirming concerns that the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the Middle East would create a vacuum for ISIS to renew its efforts.

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“Thousands of ISIS fighters remain in Syria. In the near term, we expect they will focus on guerrilla-type tactics after losing the remaining ground under ISIS control,” a senior U.S. defense official told Fox News. “I believe it’s fair to say that they could retake some territory if they are not subject to pressure. We are working on ways to sustain pressure after U.S. ground forces have withdrawn.”