A U.S. Marine was shot and wounded inside a base in Syria this year, and there isn’t enough evidence to determine whether the gunman, a member of the Syrian forces being trained by U.S. troops, fired accidentally or on purpose, U.S. officials said Friday.
The shooting occurred Feb. 17 in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, which spans from Deir al-Zor province in Syria into western Iraq. A Marine colonel launched an investigation after the incident and was “unable to conclusively determine if a U.S. Marine was shot intentionally by a Syrian Democratic Forces guard, or if he was shot as the result of a negligent discharge,” according to a statement released by U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East.
The incident highlights the dangers U.S. troops can face while deployed to Syria and the opaque nature of the military campaign there. The shooting was not disclosed for nearly six months, only after a news report by Task & Purpose revealed details about the case on Wednesday. U.S. military officials told the website that it had no record of an “insider attack” against U.S. troops in Syria.
Officials added in the statement Friday that Centcom determined that a second Marine on the scene believed that he was in imminent danger and “acted appropriately and proportionally to the threat he perceived” while responding to his fellow Marine’s gunshot wounds. He was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal, which recognizes those who distinguish themselves “by meritorious achievement.”
Task & Purpose reported that the Marines were assigned to 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, an infantry unit with headquarters at Twentynine Palms, Calif. The shooting occurred during a period of heightened tension in which a truck filled with wounded civilians arrived at their base’s gate, and Marines treated them despite objections from the Syrian forces living on their base.
The wounded Marine suffered two wounds to a leg and received a Purple Heart to recognize his injuries, the report said. Navy Department criteria states that a Marine or sailor can receive the award only if they face enemy fire.
Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a U.S. military spokesman, when asked Friday why the shooting was not disclosed until this week, referred to the investigation and said that it did not determine anyone was intentionally shot. Centcom is “working to release the investigation as soon as possible,” Urban said.
U.S. military officials do not typically issue a news release each time a service member is wounded in a combat zone, but often disclose it in other formats. Numerous news briefings providing an overall update on the military campaign have occurred since February, and military officials had not disclosed it.
Since the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria began in June 2014, 14 U.S. troops have been killed in action, and 64 more have been wounded, according to Pentagon statistics.