On Feb. 17, a Marine was shot at a small outpost near Deir al Zour, Syria. Another Marine promptly killed the shooter, who was allegedly a Kurdish fighter with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
The shot Marine would survive and was awarded the Purple Heart for his wounds. The Marine who put down the shooter would receive the Joint Service Commendation Medal.
The Purple Heart is typically awarded to U.S. service members wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy, according to a 2011 review of the award criteria by the Marine Corps. Despite this, the military could not actually determine whether the Kurdish soldier intentionally shot the Marine, or simply negligently discharged his rifle, U.S. Central Command said Friday.
“The incident was investigated by a team led by a U.S. Marine colonel who 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,” CENTCOM said in a statement.
Regardless, the investigation determined that the second Marine — who shot the Kurdish fighter immediately after the suspected attack — believed himself to be in imminent danger, and “acted appropriately and proportionally to the threat he perceived,” according to CENTCOM.
Because the second Marine perceived he was in imminent danger, and because he quickly tended to his fellow Marine’s injuries, the lead investigator decided to recommend that he be recognized for his actions with the Commendation Medal.
CENTCOM added that the full investigation will be released after a classification review.
The statement from CENTCOM comes after Task & Purpose reported the incident from the perspective of Marines who were at the outpost at the time, and who spoke to the publication under the condition of anonymity.
Those individuals reported that an incident the day of the shooting could explain a possible insider attack by the Kurdish shooter.
A truck full of wounded Syrian civilians had pulled up to the American outpost asking for help, but Kurdish fighters guarding the base tried to prevent them from receiving medical care, Task & Purpose reported. The U.S. forces pushed through the SDF partner force to assist the wounded, “amid screaming from both sides in English and Arabic,” according to Task & Purpose.
“Another source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, said the injured group, comprised mostly of women and children, was turned away by the SDF because they were not Kurdish,” Task & Purpose reported.
The two Marines who shoved past the Kurdish fighters to help the civilians were later involved in the shooting that night.