U.S. Central Command released a statement on Friday saying that its investigation into the Feb. 17 shooting of Marine Sgt. Cameron Halkovich by a member of the Syrian Democratic Forces, first reported by Task & Purpose, was “unable to conclusively determine” if he was shot intentionally.
Halkovich, a combat engineer attached to a Marine infantry battalion at a remote outpost in Syria, was shot twice in the leg later that evening while checking on Marines pulling guard duty. Multiple sources told Task & Purpose the SDF soldier hid in the shadows and ambushed Halkovich, then stood over him with a rifle before Cpl. Kane Downey fired two shots and subdued the threat to his wounded Marine.
Downey received the Joint Service Commendation Medal for his actions, which said he “acted decisively to eliminate the threat to his comrade by firing several controlled shots at the person who shot his Sergeant of the Guard, and immediately removing [sic] the shooter’s weapon.”
In April, Halkovich received the Purple Heart for his wounds. (The Navy and Marine Corps awards manual states that in order to receive a Purple Heart, wounds must come as a “direct or indirect result of enemy action.”)
CENTCOM, however, said in a statement that the investigation into the incident led by a U.S. Marine colonel 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.”
“The investigation also determined that a second Marine on the scene, believing himself to be in imminent danger, acted appropriately and proportionally to the threat he perceived,” the statement added.
Still, the statement raises questions of the competing narrative present in the citation of the award for Downey, which was recommended by the lead investigator. That a Marine would receive an award for killing an SDF soldier that may have accidentally discharged his weapon seems rather strange; Halkovich was also shot two times while walking alone, at night.
CENTCOM added that the investigation led to recommendations that it had enacted, but did not elaborate. The command also claimed its partner force, the SDF, conducted its own investigation and supported its findings.