It happened at a US base in February, at the height of Turkey’s Afrin invasion, when Kurdish disappointment with the US abandonment was high. The exact location of the base is not given in the article. The Task and Purpose article alleges that wounded civilians heading there, “mostly of women and children, were turned away by the SDF because they were not Kurdish”. US Marines Cameron Halkovich and Kane Downey get the wounded in the base for treatment against alleged SDF objections.
Later in the night, Halkovich and Downey go out to visit another Marine on sentry duty. An SDF fighter guarding the gate is not there. Halkovich pauses to take a leak while Downey walks on. Downey hears two AK-47 shots, looks backs and sees “a lone SDF soldier, standing over Halkovich with a rifle”. Downey shoots dead the SDF while Halkovich survives the shots in the leg.
Halkovich is taken away for treatment while Downey is removed from the base “to explain what had happened to military investigators.” Later, in March, Downey gets a medal for a “shooting incident”. The citation pointedly refuses to identify the shooter. A month later, in April, Halkovich gets a Purple Heart.
The rest of the same Marine and SDF units continue to work together in the same outpost until the Marine unit’s normal rotation.
That is the gist of the ‘exclusive’ story by Paul Szoldra of Task & Purpose, who is probably pleased with himself for conjuring up dramatic lines like “friends can become enemies in the blink of an eye,” and is positively beside himself that the CENTCOM Commander Gen. Vottel has heard of his story.
There is much in this article that does not add up to what we already know. For example, the SDF refusing treatment to wounded women and children and trying to prevent the US soldiers offering treatment would be a first and an astonishing and scandalous news that could not be suppressed. The female fighters who make up 30 percent of the Kurdish forces would stand up against such inhumanity.
No political motive is provided for the shooting of Halkovich. The article itself does not draw parallels with the experience in Afghanistan where “Taliban in Afghan army uniform” routinely shoot at NATO soldiers in joint bases. The shooter in Syria had ample opportunity to cause much more damage to Halkovich and other Marines if that was his intention before he was shot dead by Downey.
Could this possibly be an outcome of personal animosity between Halkovich, Downey and the shooter? All armed forces, as well as the US Marines and the SDF, have to deal with armed men maintaining deep personal gripe against one another. Sometimes, these men fail to restrain themselves and an altercation can end in a deadly shooting.
If personal animosity was the reason in this case, then the basis for the awarding of a medal to Downey and a Purple Heart to Halkovich evaporates. The Marines and the SDF would equally be culpable for the lack of discipline in their ranks.
Or perhaps, they would be praised for maintaining the discipline, for one shooting incident between the partners in their 4-year-long cooperation in a war zone is not a bad statistics.
The Kurdish-American partnership in Syria has repeatedly been described by American officers as one of the most successful examples of military co-operation in their history. The Kurds are grateful to the US for the protection offered against ISIS, and the US must be delighted to defeat the dangerous jihadi menace without suffering casualties in a ground war.
Since the Turkish-jihadi invasion of Afrin and the encroachment near Manbij, both of which took place with American acquiescence, there has been a growing disillusionment among the Kurds that the US will abandon this successful partnership in favour of its larger international interests.
At the state level, the US may stop being friends with the SDF to please Turkey. At the personal level, however, dudes, we just won a great war together against a common threat: we shall never stop being friends.