WASHINGTON — A U.S. Marine was killed in Iraq in a battle with insurgents, becoming the first combat-related death of a U.S. service member in Iraq this year.
The death came during the Pentagon’s ongoing effort to provide logistical and intelligence support to Iraqi forces. A U.S. contractor also was reported killed.
The Pentagon said Sunday that Gunnery Sergeant Scott A. Koppenhafer, 35, of Mancos, Colo., was killed after being engaged by enemy small-arms fire while conducting combat operations.
The death, which occurred Saturday, is under investigation, the Pentagon said.
Koppenhafer was assigned to the elite 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, Marine Forces Special Operations Command, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He is survived by his wife and two children.
About 5,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq as part of a security agreement with the Baghdad to train, advise, and assist its forces in the battle against ISIS, which overran large parts of Iraq in 2014.
Koppenhafer’s death came one day after the Pentagon released a report that said there is an increase in ISIS activity in Iraq and Syria.
“Despite losing its territorial ‘caliphate,’ the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was re-surging in Syria,” the report said.
One of the reasons cited for the uptick by ISIS was the “removal or reduction” of U.S. troops in the region, the report said.
The U.S. contractor killed was not identified.
Two U.S. service personnel and a Defense Department civilian were killed in Manbij, Syria, in January — which borders Iraq on the west — in a attack by ISIS terrorists
The Marine Corps, in a statement, said the highly decorated Koppenhafer joined the Marine Corps in 2005 and spent the past decade as a “highly revered” Marine Corps Special Operations Command critical skills operator. Previously he was a machine gunner with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, and a scout sniper, who deployed with both the 31st and 11th Marine Expeditionary Units, the Marines said.
He was named the Marine Special Operator of the Year in 2018 for his role in leading Marine Special Operations Team 8223 “to a ‘masterfully orchestrated success’ of guiding elite Iraqi Special Operations Forces that ‘directly contributed to the defeat of ISIS forces in northern Iraq,’ ” according to the Marine Corps Times.