Josh White / The Washington Post – 2004-05-31 11:17:13
WASHINGTON — Pat Tillman, the former pro football player, was killed by other American troops in a friendly fire episode in Afghanistan last month instead of by enemy bullets, according to a US investigation of the incident.
New details released Saturday about Tillman’s death indicate that he was gunned down by members of his elite Army Ranger platoon who mistakenly shot in his direction during an enemy ambush.
NBC News questions if any enemy was in the area and the shooting started from an over reaction to an explosion in the area).
According to a summary of the Army investigation, a Ranger squad leader mistook an allied Afghan Militia Force soldier standing near Tillman as the enemy, and he and other US soldiers opened fire, killing both men.
That Tillman, 27, wasn’t killed by enemy fire in a heroic rescue attempt was a major revelation by the US military more than a month after the April 22 incident, which the Pentagon and members of Congress had hailed as an example of combat bravery. Tillman’s sacrifice of millions of dollars to become a soldier has been held up as a stark contrast to the prison scandal in Iraq.
Shortly after his death, Army officials awarded Tillman a Silver Star for combat valor and a Purple Heart. They said Tillman, a corporal, was killed while charging at the enemy up a hill, allowing the rest of his platoon to escape alive.
Instead, it appears Tillman’s bravery in battle led him to become a victim of a series of mishaps as he was trying to protect part of his stranded platoon, which Army officials say was attacked while hampered by a disabled vehicle it had in tow.
The report said Tillman got out of his vehicle and shot at the enemy during a 20-minute firefight before he was killed when members of his unit opened fire after returning to the scene to help.
A woman who answered the door at the home of Tillman’s parents in San Jose said the family did not have anything to say publicly.
News of Tillman’s death by friendly fire was first reported Saturday in the Arizona Republic and the Argus of Fremont newspapers. New details about the incident emerged Saturday. Military officials could not explain the discrepancy between earlier reports and the releases Friday, saying that a month long investigation into the attack helped clarify the events.
The investigation reports that Tillman was killed after he got out of his vehicle and fought about a dozen enemy insurgents in restricted terrain and in poor light conditions.
“While there was no one specific finding of fault, the investigation results indicate that Cpl. Tillman probably died as a result of friendly fire while his unit was engaged in combat with enemy forces,” said Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger Jr., who is in charge of the US Army’s Special Operations Command, based in Fort Bragg, N.C.
“The results of this investigation in no way diminish the bravery and sacrifice displayed by Cpl. Tillman. Cpl. Tillman was shot and killed while responding to enemy fire without regard for his own safety.”
The report summary, however, leaves no doubt that Tillman was killed by friendly fire, saying that the Afghan fighter was “misidentified” by a Ranger squad leader, who then attacked. The report said other soldiers, who generally look to squad leaders for guidance, followed suit.
“Other members of the platoon, observing the direction of fire by the squad leader, oriented their fire in the same direction,” the summary says. “This fire fatally wounded one Ranger and the AMF soldier.”
Two other US soldiers were injured by friendly fire in the same melee, though Army officials said Saturday they could not provide details. The full investigative report has yet to be released.
According to the summary, the incident was the result of a series of problems and failures as the Ranger platoon moved from one assignment to another through the mountainous terrain along the Pakistan border, about 90 miles south of Kabul, near the village of Spera.
First, a vehicle with Tillman’s unit broke down and the platoon mechanic could not fix it. Then, without available air resources to lift the vehicle out of the area, the soldiers decided to tow the vehicle as they moved to their next assignment.
On April 22, the soldiers split the platoon, sending a working vehicle ahead while Tillman’s unit towed the disabled one, slowing it down, according to a spokesman for the US Central Command in Florida.
“Approximately 30 minutes after the platoon split off in their separate directions, the section with the non-mission capable vehicle was ambushed by anti-coalition forces,” the summary said. “Hearing the engagement, the other section of the platoon maneuvered to the location of the ambush and engaged in the fight.”
It was then that the Afghan soldier was mistaken for the enemy and was killed when the other half of the platoon returned. Tillman, who was by his side, also was shot, the report said.
Tillman and his fellow Rangers were attacked in a region where US forces have been searching out Taliban and al-Qaida leaders who are believed to be hiding there.
Operation Mountain Storm has been scouring the area for months — looking for such leaders as Osama bin Laden — and has frequently been involved in skirmishes.
Kensinger, in his statement at Fort Bragg, said Tillman’s unit was ambushed with small-arms and mortar fire at about 7:30 p.m. local time in the vicinity of a military base in Khost, Afghanistan. He described the ensuing firefight as “intense” and involving about a dozen enemy fighters shooting from multiple locations.
“There is an inherent degree of confusion in any firefight, particularly when a unit is ambushed, and especially under difficult light and terrain conditions which produce an environment that increases the likelihood of fratricide,” Kensinger said.
A member of Company A of the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Tillman was one of an elite force of Army light-infantry soldiers often used for difficult assault missions around the globe.
He and his brother, Kevin, joined the Army in 2002 after he expressed deep patriotism in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Kevin Tillman also was an Army Ranger and was part of the same battalion.
Pat Tillman, an Arizona Cardinals safety, walked away from a $3.6 million contract and made less than $20,000 in the Army. He shunned media attention, telling his family and the military that he
didn’t want to be treated differently than other soldiers.