Tillman Killed by 'Friendly Fire'
Probe Cites Error By Platoon Mates
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 30, 2004; Page A01
Pat Tillman, the former pro football player, was killed by other American troops in a "friendly fire" episode in Afghanistan last month and not by enemy bullets, according to a U.S. investigation of the incident.
New details released yesterday about Tillman's death indicate that he was gunned down by members of his elite Army Ranger platoon who mistakenly shot in his direction when the unit was ambushed. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 when he left the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals 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. He also was promoted from specialist to corporal. They said Tillman 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 errors 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 yesterday in the Arizona Republic and the Argus of Fremont, Calif., and new details emerged yesterday.
Military officials could not explain the discrepancy between earlier reports and the releases yesterday, 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 insurgents in restricted terrain and in poor light conditions.
"While there was no one specific finding of fault, the investigation results indicate that Corporal Tillman probably died as a result of friendly fire while his unit was engaged in combat with enemy forces," said Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger Jr., who is in charge of the U.S. 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 Corporal Tillman. Corporal 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 U.S. soldiers were injured by friendly fire in the same melee, though Army officials said yesterday that they could not provide details. The full investigative report has yet to be released.
According to 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 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 U.S. Central Command in Florida.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company