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Barrage of Bullets Drowned Out Cries of Comrades

A sergeant with Tillman on the ridge recalled he "could actually see the enemy from the high northern ridge line. I could see their muzzle flashes." The presumed Taliban guerrillas were about half a mile away, he estimated.

Tillman approached the sergeant and said "that he saw the enemy on the southern ridge line," as the sergeant recalled. Tillman asked whether he could drop his heavy body armor. "No," the sergeant ordered.

The Afghan region of Khost, frequented by Osama bin Laden and his allies for many years, was where Pat Tillman and other members of the 2nd Platoon were responsible for operations. (Emilio Morenatti -- AP)

Steve Coll MSNBC Video: Post's Steve Coll on the investigation into Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan

_____Field of Battle_____
Interactive Graphic: View the sequence of events and a map of the terrain where Pat Tillman was killed.
_____The Official Story_____
U.S. Army officials waited for weeks before informing Pat Tillman's family that he was accidentally killed by fellow Army rangers.
_____More From Series_____
In the Kill Zone: Barrage of Bullets Drowned Out Cries of Comrades (By Steve Coll, The Washington Post, December 5, 2004)
In the Kill Zone: Army Spun Tale Around Ill-Fated Mission (By Steve Coll, The Washington Post, December 6, 2004)

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"I didn't think about it at the time, but I think he wanted to assault the southern ridgeline," the sergeant recalled.

Instead, on the sergeant's instructions, Tillman moved down the slope with other Rangers and "into a position where he could engage the enemy," the sergeant recalled. With Tillman were a young Ranger and a bearded Afghan militia fighter who was part of the 2nd Platoon's traveling party.

A Ranger nearby watched Tillman take cover. "I remember not liking his position," he recalled. "I had just seen a red tracer come up over us . . . which immediately struck me as being a M240 tracer. . . . At that time the issue of friendly fire began turning over in my mind."

Tillman and his team fired toward the canyon to suppress the ambush. His brother Kevin was in the canyon.

Several of Serial 2's Rangers said later that as they shot their way out of the canyon, they had no idea where their comrades in Serial 1 might be.

"We have friendlies on top! . . . No one heard me."

"Contact right!" one gunner in Greg Baker's truck remembered hearing as they rolled from the ambush canyon.

As he fired, Baker "noticed muzzle flashes" coming from a ridge to the right of the village they were now approaching. Everyone in his vehicle poured fire at the flashes in a deafening roar.

"I saw a figure holding an AK-47, his muzzle was flashing, he wasn't wearing a helmet, and he was prone," Baker recalled in a statement. "I focused only on him. I got tunnel vision."

Baker was aiming at the bearded Afghan militia soldier in Pat Tillman's fire team. He died in a fusillade from Baker's Humvee.

A gunner in Baker's light truck later guessed they were "only about 100 meters" from their new targets on the ridge, but they were "driving pretty fast towards them."

Rangers are trained to shoot only after they have clearly identified specific targets as enemy forces. Gunners working together are supposed to follow orders from their vehicle's commander -- in this case, Baker. If there is no chance for orderly talk, the gunners are supposed to watch their commander's aim and shoot in the same direction.

As they pulled alongside the ridge, the gunners poured an undisciplined barrage of hundreds of rounds into the area where Tillman and other members of Serial 1 had taken up positions, Army investigators later concluded. The gunner of the M-2 .50-caliber machine gun in Baker's truck fired every round he had.

The shooters saw only "shapes," a Ranger-appointed investigator wrote, and all of them directed bursts of machine gun fire "without positively identifying the shapes."

Yet not everyone in Baker's convoy was confused. The driver of Baker's vehicle or the one behind him -- the records are not clear -- pulled free of the ambush canyon and quickly recognized the parked U.S. Army vehicles of Serial 1 ahead of him.

He looked to his right and saw a bearded Afghan firing an AK-47, "which confused me for a split second," but he then quickly saw the rest of Serial 1 on top of the ridge.

The driver shouted twice: "We have friendlies on top!" Then he screamed "No!" Then he yelled several more times to cease fire, he recalled. "No one heard me."

"We thought the battle was over, so we were relieved."

Up on the ridge, Tillman and Rangers around him began to wave their arms and shout. But they only attracted more fire from Baker's vehicle.

"I saw three to four arms pop up," one of the gunners with Baker recalled. "They did not look like the cease-fire hand-and-arm signal because they were waving side to side." When he and the other gunners spotted the waving arms, their "rate of fire increased."

The young Ranger nearest Tillman on the ridge, whose full name could not be confirmed, saw a Humvee coming down the road. "They made eye contact with us," then began firing, he remembered. Baker's heavily armed vehicle "rolled into our sight and started to unload on top of us. They would work in bursts."

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