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Barrage of Bullets Drowned Out Cries of Comrades

Tillman and nearly a dozen other Rangers on the ridge tried everything they could: They shouted, they waved their arms, and they screamed some more.

"Ranger! Ranger! Cease fire!" one soldier on the ridge remembered shouting.

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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"But they couldn't hear us," recalled the soldier nearest Tillman. Then Tillman "came up with the idea to let a smoke grenade go." As its thick smoke unfurled, "This stopped the friendly contact for a few moments," the Ranger recalled.

"We thought the battle was over, so we were relieved, getting up and stretching out, and talking with one another."

Suddenly he saw the attacking Humvee move into "a better position to fire on us." He heard a new machine gun burst and hit the ground, praying, as Pat Tillman fell.

"I started screaming. . . . I was scared to death and didn't know what to do."

A sergeant farther up the ridge from Tillman fired a flare -- an even clearer signal than Tillman's smoke grenade that these were friendly forces.

By now Baker's truck had pulled past the ridge and had come into plain sight of Serial 1's U.S. vehicles. Baker said later that he looked down the road, then back up to the ridge. He saw the flare and identified Rangers even as he continued to shoot at the Afghan he believed to be a Taliban fighter. Finally he began to call for a cease-fire.

In the village behind Tillman's ridge, Uthlaut and his radio operator had been pinned down by the streams of fire pouring from Baker's vehicle. Both were eventually hit by what they assumed was machine gun fire.

The last of Serial 2's vehicles pulled up in the village. All the firing had stopped.

The platoon sergeant jumped out and began searching for Uthlaut, angry that nobody seemed to know what was happening. He found the lieutenant sitting near a wall of the village, dropped down beside him and demanded to know what he was doing. "At that point I spotted the blood around his mouth" and realized there were casualties -- and that Uthlaut was one of them, wounded but still conscious.

On the ridge the young Ranger nearest Pat Tillman screamed, "Oh my [expletive] God!" again and again, as one of his comrades recalled. The Ranger beside Tillman had been lying flat as Tillman initially called out for a cease-fire, yelling out his name. Then Tillman went silent as the firing continued. Now the young Ranger saw a "river of blood" coming from Tillman's position. He got up, looked at Tillman, and saw that "his head was gone."

"I started screaming. . . . I was scared to death and didn't know what to do."

A sergeant on the ridge took charge. He called for a medic, ordered Rangers to stake out a perimeter picket in case Taliban guerrillas attacked again, and opened a radio channel to the 75th Ranger Regiment's operations center at Bagram.

Seventeen minutes after Serial 2 had entered the canyon, 2nd Platoon reported that its forces "were no longer in contact," as a Ranger-appointed investigator later put it. It was not clear then or later who the Afghan attackers spotted by half a dozen Rangers in both serials had been, how many guerrillas there were, or whether any were killed.

Nine minutes later, a regiment log shows, the platoon requested a medevac helicopter and reported two soldiers killed in action. One was the Afghan militia soldier. The other was Pat Tillman, age 27.

His brother Kevin arrived on the scene in Serial 2's trailing vehicle.

Kevin Tillman declined to be interviewed for these articles and was not asked by Ranger investigators to provide sworn statements. But according to other statements and sources familiar with the investigation, Kevin was initially asked to take up guard duty on the outskirts of the shooting scene.

He learned that his brother was dead only when a platoon mate mentioned it to him casually, according to these sources.

It would take almost five more weeks -- after a flag-draped coffin ceremony, a Silver Star award and a news release, and a public memorial attended by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jake Plummer and newswoman Maria Shriver -- for the Rangers or the Army to acknowledge to Kevin Tillman, his family or the public that Pat Tillman had been killed by his own men.

Staff writer Josh White contributed to this report.

Tomorrow: The Army investigates

-- and protects its own.

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