Service member dies on patrol in Syria

By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 21, 2020

A coalition service member died Tuesday on a routine security patrol in northeastern Syria, the U.S. military said.

The “young warrior,” who had not been identified as of Wednesday, was killed in what Operation Inherent Resolve deputy commander Air Force Maj. Gen. Kenneth P. Ekman described as a mishap.

The service member, whose nationality, service branch and unit were not released, will be identified after next of kin have been notified, the coalition said, citing its policy.

Though the death remains under investigation, Ekman said there was no indication the patrol was anything but routine. OIR said in an initial statement that the death did not appear to be due to enemy contact.

“We send our condolences and our prayers to the families of our fallen comrade,” Ekman told reporters at the Pentagon via satellite from Baghdad, Iraq.

The general declined to say how many U.S. troops were in Syria to train and assist Kurdish-led militia forces fighting the Islamic State, but he said the number remains stable. There are about 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq, he said.

Earlier this year, there were a couple of hundred Americans at a remote garrison in southeastern Syria, and several hundred more at austere bases in the country’s northeast.

U.S. convoys patrol northeastern Syria frequently and have near daily contact with Russian troops that are in the country, backing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in a conflict that began with anti-government protests in 2011.

Videos posted online in recent months have shown U.S. convoys that appear to be escorting Russian vehicles out of some areas, or vehicles from the each country’s forces vying for position on roadways.

There was no indication of any Russian activity at the location of Tuesday’s fatal incident, Ekman said, but he declined to discuss other details.

“The rest we’re just going to have to leave to the investigation,” he said.

News of Tuesday’s death came hours after a brief video clip began circulating on social media showing what appeared to be a U.S. military armored vehicle that had rolled over somewhere in northern Syria. It was not immediately clear that the incident was connected to the service member’s death.

The death brings to 10 the number of fatalities this year under Inherent Resolve, which provides partner forces with advising, intelligence, equipment and airstrikes.

Two Marine Raiders were killed in a combat operation against ISIS in the mountains of northern Iraq in early March. Days later, two Americans — an airman and a soldier — and a British soldier were killed in a rocket attack at Camp Taji, a base north of Baghdad. The U.S. has blamed that deadly attack on Iran-backed paramilitary forces.

Four other American service members died in what the coalition said were noncombat incidents, including a rollover accident in Syria in January. Two died in northern Iraq and the latest, a soldier, died in Jordan last month.

Some 150 American troops have also been wounded in action in Iraq and Syria this year, Pentagon data show, including 14 in the March rocket attack on Camp Taji. More than 100 others suffered brain injuries from an Iranian ballistic missile attack in January that struck two Iraqi bases where American troops are based.

Twitter: @chadgarland