The Department of Defense identified a Marine Raider who died as the result of a non-combat-related incident in Iraq while he was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.
Staff Sgt. Samuel D. Lecce, 32, of Jefferson, Tenn., who died in Iraq on Dec. 19, 2022, was assigned to the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion, Marine Forces Special Operations Command, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
The Pentagon, which did not reveal the nature of the incident, said that Lecce was in Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the ongoing U.S. military-led effort to defeat the Islamic State militant group, or ISIS, in the country and neighboring Syria. The incident is under investigation.
Recent headlines indicate that the fight against ISIS is not over yet.
U.S. troops recently captured six suspected fighters from the group, including an alleged senior operative, amid an uptick in raids in Syria.
A recent report from the Lead Inspector General for Operation Inherent Resolve indicated that attacks claimed by ISIS this year “decreased dramatically in Iraq, while attacks in Syria increased significantly, marking a rebound from historically low levels the previous year.”
The report also said, “third-party actors” —including Iran-aligned militias as well as Turkish and Turkish-aligned forces fighting ethnic Kurds and US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces—continue to undermine the ongoing U.S. military-led effort to defeat the Islamic State militant group, or ISIS, in Iraq and Syria.
The U.S. military’s strategy in Syria appears to involve targeting ISIS senior leaders in raids in the hope that the group will eventually collapse, Bill Roggio, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, told Task & Purpose on Tuesday.
That helps “keep them on their back foot … But it’s no substitute for systematically dismantling these groups,” he said.
As the Marine Corps’ special operations unit, Marine Raiders are well-positioned to carry out missions against ISIS, though whether Lecce and the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion were involved in such missions is unclear.
As of this week, a total of 107 service members and two Defense Department civilians had died in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Of the military deaths, 20 were caused by hostile action while 87 were caused by non-hostile action, while both civilian deaths were caused by non-hostile action.
“Marine Forces Special Operations Command offers our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Staff Sgt. Samuel D. Lecce, as our Marine Raider family mourns his loss,” said Maj. Matthew Finnerty, a MARSOC spokesman.
Marine Raiders have been involved in combat operations throughout Operation Inherent Resolve. Gunnery Sgt. Diego D. Pongo and Capt. Moises A. Navas — Marine Raiders assigned to the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion — were killed while on a mission to clear out an ISIS stronghold in the mountains of central Iraq in March of 2020.
Staff Sgt. Nicholas Jones, who was also assigned to the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion received the Navy Cross for his actions while fighting through the ISIS cave complex in Iraq in March of 2020.
Last year, the U.S. formally ended its combat mission in Iraq, but about 2,500 U.S. troops remain in the country to “advise, assist and enable” Iraqi partner forces that continue to fight ISIS.
U.S. forces assigned to Operation Inherent Resolve continue to carry out some raids targeting specific ISIS leaders. The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced multiple raids in Syria in recent days.
US Central Command forces conducted three helicopter raids in eastern Syria resulting in the detention of six ISIS operatives, including al-Zubaydi, an Islamic State Syria Province Senior Official involved in the planning and facilitation of ISIS attacks in Syria.
The US military previously conducted a successful helicopter raid in eastern Syria on December 11, killing two ISIS officials including Anas, an ISIS Syria Province official who was involved in the group’s deadly plotting and facilitation operations in eastern Syria.
“These partnered operations reaffirm CENTCOM’s steadfast commitment to the region and the enduring defeat of ISIS,” said Gen. Michael ‘Erik’ Kurilla, commander of US Central Command. “The capture of these ISIS operatives will disrupt the terrorist organization’s ability to further plot and carry out destabilizing attacks.”
Kurilla said extensive planning went into these operations to ensure their successful execution and that no civilians were killed or injured.