Written by Kyle Rempfer for Army Times
A rare gunfight between U.S. paratroopers and pro-Syrian regime forces last summer has led to charges against a senior enlisted soldier assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The clash occurred near Tal al-Zahab, in Syria’s northeast, where a tenuous U.S. military presence has guarded lucrative oil fields and chased lingering Islamic State fighters. Altercations with local militias and Russian forces last year highlighted the unpredictable nature of the mission there, and at least one incident followed soldiers home.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Nicoson, of Blackhorse Troop, 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, was charged in early April with two counts of failure to obey a lawful order, two counts of reckless endangerment, one count of communicating threats and three counts of obstructing justice.
The charges stem from a roughly 10-minute gunfight that erupted at a pro-Syrian regime checkpoint Aug. 17, 2020. The exchange reportedly killed one Syrian fighter and wounded two others. There were no U.S. casualties. A portion of the gunfight was caught on video, though it does not show how it began.
After “receiving safe passage from pro-regime forces,” the Americans “came under small arms fire from individuals in the vicinity of the checkpoint” and returned fire in self-defense, Operation Inherent Resolve officials said in a statement at the time.
Eight months later, OIR spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto declined to comment on an investigation into the incident. The U.S.-led coalition “cannot comment on any allegations that are under investigation or the subject of current or pending court-martial charges,” he told Army Times.
The charges against Nicoson allege that he put soldiers into a situation they shouldn’t have been in and made threats against the pro-Syrian regime forces at the checkpoint before the gunfight started, according to Nicoson’s civilian defense attorney, Phillip Stackhouse.
“Soldiers were told to stay two kilometers away from particular Syrian forces, but the missions that [Nicoson] was a part of, presumably took them within two kilometers of those same Syrian forces,” Stackhouse said.
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