No Changes to SDF Vetting Process after Syrian Guard Shot US Marine

U.S. Marines fire a mortar during training in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria, July 23, 2018 (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)
U.S. Marines fire a mortar during training in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria, July 23, 2018 (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

U.S. and coalition forces did not alter the screening process for vetting Syrian Democratic Forces after an SDF member shot a U.S. Marine in February at a remote Syrian outpost, according to a high-ranking Operation Inherent Resolve official.

A team tasked with investigating the Feb. 17 shooting, which left two bullet holes in the leg of Sgt. Cameron Halkovich, was unable to determine whether the incident was an insider attack.

Halkovich and another Marine were making a nighttime check of the base perimeter when an SDF member shot him with his AK-47, according to a story first reported by Task and Purpose.

Cpl. Kane Downey, the Marine accompanying Halkovich, shot and killed the gunman, applied first aid to Halkovich and carried him to the medical facility, Task and Purpose reported.

British Army Maj. Gen. Felix Gedney, deputy commander of strategy and support for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said Tuesday that the "tragic incident was an anomaly" and said he sees no need to change the process for screening individuals for the SDF.

"I don't think we needed to. We have a very effective vetting force, and I don't think we fully understand the motives behind what happened," he told reporters at the Pentagon. "And I think most likely it was a tragic misunderstanding that led to the use of lethal force."

An investigation into the incident, which was led by a U.S. Marine colonel, could not "conclusively determine" whether the SDF guard intentionally shot Halkovich, according to an Aug. 10 press release by U.S. Central Command.

It's possible that the SDF guard negligently discharged his weapon, triggering the chain of events, Gedney said.

"The truth is we can't be sure. We know the mechanics of what happened, but we don't know the motives of what happened, and it is entirely likely that the incident was sparked by a negligent discharge at a point where there was high tension anyway," he said.

"We in the military, on combat operations, are always high tension, and there is an element of friction that professional forces learn to deal with," Gedney said. "And in this case, it seems like there may have been some form of tragic misunderstanding, which led to the actions and the loss of life."

Halkovich received a Purple Heart for his injuries. Downey was awarded a Joint Service Commendation Medal, an award that was warranted under the circumstances, Gedney said.

Downey "responded very quickly to what he considered a threat, and he did that in an exceptional way, for which he was rewarded," Gedney said.

-- Military.com's Gina Harkins contributed to this report.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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