What Happened?

On August 17, 2020, a Coalition Forces (CF) led patrol engaged in small arms fire with pro-Syrian regime forces at a checkpoint near Tal Al-Zahab, Syria. A platoon of US Soldiers was conducting a routine, anti-ISIS patrol when they were stopped at the checkpoint.

The engagement was captured on video from a distance, though details of what took place are difficult to make out.

The incident was covered by CBS news and published on the same day of the attack. They reported an airstrike was conducted by CF and linked the twitter post with pictures of the destroyed checkpoint. CF denied conducting an airstrike despite Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and the Syrian regime stating otherwise.

The article on United American Patriots website states that SFC Robert Nicoson and 16 soldiers were attacked by a complex ambush during combat operations in Syria after being waved through a checkpoint. As 9-12 hostile personnel began their attack on the Americans, the gunner on SFC Nicoson’s vehicle began to return fire. Realizing the gunner would need to perform a reload on his crew served weapon, SFC Nicoson and one other enlisted soldier dismounted and exposed themselves multiple times to heavy and sustained enemy fire to draw attention away from the vehicle.

Once the majority of hostile forces were neutralized and sustained hostile fire became more sporadic, SFC Nicoson made sure all of his troops were in their vehicles, and they broke contact. The 10-minute active firefight caused damage to the convoy vehicles and resulted in at least one enemy combatant being killed. While there were Apache helicopters overhead, they were not authorized to engage.

Fallout from the attack

SFC Nicoson was initially written up for a Bronze Star with valor for his actions. The situation quickly changed, and his chain of command (CoC) claimed he disobeyed orders and was not supposed to be at the checkpoint. He was removed from his duty position, and his security clearance was suspended. On April 8, 2021, SFC Nicoson was officially charged with two counts of failure to follow a lawful order, two counts of reckless endangerment, one count of wrongful communication, and three counts of obstruction of justice.

UAP claims the pentagon used the enemy propaganda Twitter account to gather information on the incident and arrive at the conclusion that SFC Nicoson was responsible for the engagement.

What were the charges for?

Two counts of failure to follow a lawful order – His commander and first sergeant claimed the platoon was not supposed to be at the checkpoint.

Explanation: The platoon’s location was known to the CoC because it was relayed through JBCP (Joint Battle Command Platform, otherwise known as ‘blue force tracker; an encrypted system that relays exact location of friendly forces to all other friendly forces on the battlefield who are using the system). His CoC responded “roger” numerous times to his platoon when they communicated over radio with the status of their patrol and location. There were also two Apache helicopters providing security for the patrol. Their location was well communicated and known throughout the entire patrol.

Two counts of reckless endangerment – SFC Nicoson was accused of getting out of his vehicle twice to talk to the enemy in an attempt to de-escalate the situation.

Explanation: The unit SOP (standard operating procedure) directs personnel to conduct this action whenever possible. There was another hostile situation a few weeks before that was successfully de-escalated by SFC Nicoson due to the actions he took in conjunction with the SOP.

One count of wrongful communication – SFC Nicoson was accused of giving US Army ROE (rules of engagement) to the checkpoint guards when they granted his convoy safe passage.

Three counts of obstruction of justice – SFC Nicoson was accused of telling two of his soldiers to delete video they had taken of the incident.

Explanation: SFC Nicoson stated, “if there is music in the video, delete that crap” before an investigation had taken place or even been suggested. This was directed because even though videos were not mandatory, if the soldiers did make videos, they were not allowed to have music in them. The squadron got in trouble for music being in the videos several times before, and SFC Nicoson was taking the initiative to prevent his platoon from running afoul of this policy. 

One allegation stated that he told his interpreter what to say on his sworn statement. The problem with this is sworn statements were taken ten days after SFC Nicoson was removed from his platoon sergeant position and placed five hours away from his platoon. He wouldn’t have pre-emptively told the interpreter to make a statement when there was no investigation or statement to make. Logically, it wouldn’t cross someone’s mind to conduct a coverup when there was no investigation and they had just been recommended for a Bronze Star with valor.

My Opinion

There is absolutely ZERO chance that SFC Nicoson’s CoC didn’t know of his whereabouts. Whether he had been ordered to stay away from that particular CP or not, they were following his location through JBCP, radio comms and overhead security in the form of Apache Helicopters. If they’re claiming he failed to obey a lawful order, then they are the most incompetent command team in the entire Army. Anyone who’s conducted a CTC rotation at JRTC or NTC, or deployed to a combat zone, knows the virtual impossibility of not being aware of a subordinate unit’s location when they’re updating over radio and JBCP is broadcasting.

SFC Nicoson getting out of his vehicle to try and de-escalate the situation is the kind of leadership we attempt to instill in every Soldier. Accusations that he was “looking for a gunfight” do not coincide with the charges that he got out of his vehicle and tried to calm the situation down. Once again, the charges fly in the face of the accusations and serve as their own defense.

While the incident of him telling his soldiers to delete their video could easily be viewed as a he said/she said, the CoC can easily attest to the policy stating music can’t be overlaid on the video. A PSG directing it to be removed is the expectation. Because it was directed far in advance of any hint there would be an investigation, I’m inclined to believe this is a trumped up charge, especially due to the absurd charges already given.

Besides the fact that interpreters are notorious for doing and saying ANYTHING to keep their job, the allegation that SFC Nicoson told an interpreter what to say over a week in advance of an investigation that no one was aware of (once again, bronze star), I’m flat out stating this is a lie. The timelines and dates can be corroborated with official dates and the dates on sworn statements.

The platoon leader who was on mission that day was not charged, though he ended up receiving a GOMOR (general officer memorandum of record). I don’t know why the officer, the guy in charge of giving orders, isn’t being charged. That’s something I’m still looking into.

This last part is a big deal for me. I talk all the time about integrity. In moments where your conduct and character are questioned, it’s the record of your past conduct and character that will serve as your greatest defense. I have word from CWOs, SFCs, 1SGs, CPTs, LTCs, plus three Sergeants Major and a Colonel about the kind of person Robert Nicoson is. He is described in nothing less than glowing terms. His conduct, integrity, professionalism and rapport are beyond reproach in every single communique with these individuals. I don’t believe for one second that SFC Nicoson suddenly threw away his legacy and stellar reputation, plus tried to sneak out to a random Syrian CP, all in an attempt to get in a gunfight and put himself and his soldiers in danger. The leap of imagination that would take is embarrassing for anyone to attest to, let alone put on paper and send forth as official charges.

Why?

I don’t know. My inclination suggests that CF did some serious tap dancing when international pressure folded in on them due to the death of a Syrian soldier. The political situation in Syria during this period of time was, and is, tenuous. When soldiers get killed on their own soil, and it’s done by a guest (because at this point that’s essentially what we are), someone has to answer for that. I doubt Syrian forces would be satisfied by charging a 23 year old 2LT. The pressure would fall on CF to assign blame to someone with more seniority and experience, and SFC Nicoson clearly had both.

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