The death of a Marine Raider in Iraq was the result of enemy actions during a combat operation, not friendly fire, according to officials with Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led mission to combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
After the Aug. 10 death of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Scott A. Koppenhafer the Pentagon announced that the Marine Raider was killed by enemy fire during a firefight near Qanus Island, Iraq. But the Defense Department began walking back that statement soon after it was released.
An updated press release simply stated the American commando died “after suffering fatal wounds while supporting Iraqi Security Forces.” Military officials also launched an investigation to determine whether friendly fire played a role in the incident.
A U.S. military contractor was also killed in the firefight, and another U.S. service member and two members of the Mosul SWAT force were wounded in the attack, OIR said.
“There is no evidence that suggests Iraqi Partner Forces engaged U.S. or Coalition forces on this operation," officials with Operation Inherent Resolve told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement Tuesday. "The deaths and injuries were incurred in the line of duty.”
At the time of the firefight, ISIS members were using Qanus Island in the Tigris River both as a refuge and as a “major transit hub” as they traveled from Syria into Mosul, Makhmour and the Kirkuk regions of Iraq, according to U.S. Central Command. The island is near Qayara West Airfield south of Mosul, which coalition forces seized in 2003 and used until 2010.
A month after Koppenhafer’s death, the U.S. Air Force dropped 40 tons of bombs on what CENTCOM called the “Daesh-infested island.”
Koppenhafer, who was assigned to 2nd Marine Raider Battalion at the time of his death, was considered a “highly revered” operator who was selected as the Raider’s 2018 Critical Skills Operator of the Year.
He earned two Bronze Stars for combat valor in Afghanistan and combating ISIS militants in the Middle East during his 10-year stint with the Marine Raiders.
The elite Raider earned his first Bronze Star in Afghanistan, where he served as an element leader from August 2012 to March 2013. According to his award citation, Koppenhafer “routinely exposed himself to hostile fire” to engage enemy forces.
Koppenhafer’s second Bronze Star was earned while combating ISIS militants in the Middle East while serving as a team chief in 2017 with 2nd Raider Battalion. The award citation, obtained by Marine Corps Times, did not disclose the country where the Raider’s heroic feats occurred.
According to the citation, when Koppenhafer’s partner force was hampered by a blinding dust storm amid an intense firefight, the Raider team chief decided to lead a small group of his team forward to improve visibility and to better support partner forces.
“Throughout the day, he supported his partner force from a series of over-watch positions while enduring enemy machine gun fire, small arms attacks, and an attempted dynamic armored vehicle borne improvised explosive device attack that detonated several hundred meters from his position,” the award citation reads.
Koppenhafer was the honor graduate of a Marine special operations school.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.