An Army paratrooper accused of misconduct that led to a brief gun battle in 2020 between U.S. troops and pro-regime forces in Syria was cleared of all charges during a court-martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Friday.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Nicoson, who was a platoon sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division’s Blackhorse Troop, 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, during the Aug. 17, 2020, incident, was found not guilty of seven charges by a jury consisting of two lieutenant colonels and six command sergeants major, according to his attorney Phil Stackhouse. An eighth charge was dropped during the evidence phase.
About eight months after his soldiers engaged Syrian troops at a checkpoint near Tal Az-Zahab, the Army charged Nicoson with violating orders, reckless endangerment, making unlawful threats, and obstruction of justice. Prosecutors accused Nicoson of approaching the checkpoint without permission, threatening to kill pro-regime forces if not allowed through, and then ordering soldiers to delete video footage of the incident and “falsely claim” pro-regime forces had granted them safe passage.
Onlookers captured video and photos of the incident that were later posted on social media.
It remains unclear exactly what happened that day. U.S. military officials issued a brief statement after the incident saying that a “patrol came under small arms fire” from individuals in the vicinity of the checkpoint and said Americans had “returned fire in self-defense” during the 10-minute firefight. Meanwhile, reports from a Syrian civil war monitoring group and Syrian state-run media claimed that U.S. forces killed one Syrian and wounded two others after calling for backup from helicopter gunships, which U.S. officials denied.
“The Coalition did not conduct an airstrike,” an Aug. 17, 2020 statement from Operation Inherent Resolve said. “No casualties occurred. The Coalition patrol returned to base. The incident remains under investigation.”
In the end, the jury sided with Nicoson’s version of events after two hours of deliberation, according to Stackhouse, who said the “combat-experienced” panel had heard a week of testimony from more than 20 witnesses.
What happens next for Nicoson or whether he’ll be returned to full duty status remains unclear. Officials at Fort Bragg did not respond to an email from Task & Purpose seeking comment.
“Sergeant First Class Nicoson, and his family, continue to be humbled and thankful to those that have supported him and stood by his side,” Stackhouse said.
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