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Military Probing Whether Friendly Fire Killed U.S. Marine in Iraq

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WASHINGTON—The U.S. military is investigating whether friendly fire caused the first combat death in Iraq since U.S. troops returned there in 2014 to battle Islamic State, defense officials said.

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Scott A. Koppenhafer was part of a team of Iraqi and U.S. troops conducting an operation Saturday against a suspected Islamic State target in Iraq’s Nineveh province when he was killed, the officials said.

The Pentagon first described Sgt. Koppenhafer’s death as the result of being “engaged by enemy small-arms fire while conducting combat operations.” Officials now are investigating whether he was accidentally struck by Iraqi or U.S. forces, the officials said.

Sgt. Koppenhafer, 35, of Colorado, became the first U.S. service member to die in combat since the deployment of U.S. troops after Islamic State took control of Mosul—the capital of Nineveh province—in June 2014.

There currently are roughly 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq, who primarily train Iraqi security forces and conduct counterterrorism operations. Despite the collapse of the terror group’s self-proclaimed caliphate earlier this year, defense officials repeatedly have warned that Islamic State still poses a threat.

Earlier this month, a Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General report concluded that Islamic State militants are strengthening their capability to carry out insurgent attacks in Iraq and Syria. The Trump administration’s decision to reduce U.S. forces in Syria, shrink the American diplomatic presence in Iraq and divert reconnaissance systems to efforts to monitor Iran also have worked to ISIS’s benefit, the report found.

The U.S. has cut the number of troops in Syria by half, to roughly 1,000, but defense officials have said they have no immediate plans to reduce the size of the U.S. footprint in Iraq.

Sgt. Koppenhafer was part of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, Marine Forces Special Operations Command out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Write to Nancy A. Youssef at

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