A little over two years ago, a combined assault force comprised of Delta Force and Special Air Service operators went after an ISIS high-value-individual (HVI) somewhere in Syria. As the commandos neared their objective, an improvised explosive device (IED) went off killing one American and one British operator.

The consequent investigations by the U.S. and British militaries, however, suggested that the deaths were a result of friendly fire. For those in the know, the investigations fingered Master Sergeant Johnathan Dunbar, the Delta operator killed, as the perpetrator. SOFREP, however, learned that wasn’t the case. Here is what we found. 

The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) released the results of an internal investigation last week regarding the deaths of Special Air Service (SAS) Sgt. Matt Tonroe and Delta Force Master Sgt. John Dunbar during a high-value target operation in Manbij, Syria, in March of 2018.

The report retracted the original cause of death, which was given as an Islamic State improvised explosive device (IED), and stated that the two commandos had been killed by friendly fire. The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) echoed both the original MoD statement and the results of the internal report.

In a statement, a USSOCOM spokesperson said, “an investigation determined both U.S. Army Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar and Sergeant Tonroe died as a result of the accidental detonation of explosives carried by coalition forces, not by enemy action.”

Refusing to provide additional information, the statements suggest an unprofessional mistake by one of the operators on the ground. Even at that level, mistakes are a reality. But on that fateful night, bad luck and not unprofessionalism was the cause of death.

Sources with intimate knowledge of the operation spoke to SOFREP to set the record straight. According to a number of Joint Special Operations Command operators, the MoD statement is only technically correct. In fact, there was an IED, and its detonation was responsible for the deaths of the two operators.

While approaching their objective, Sergeant Dunbar, who was serving as a breacher, set off an IED that detonated explosives he was carrying on his person. Sergeant Tonroe and five other friendlies were caught in the blast, which resulted in the death of the SAS operator.