Tillman Killed by 'Friendly Fire'
"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 U.S. forces have been searching out Taliban and al Qaeda 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 yesterday morning 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.
Marine Capt. Bruce Frame, a Central Command spokesman, said there has been one other friendly-fire investigation during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, arising from a combat death in March 2002. According to the Defense Department, 51 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action in and around Afghanistan, and 122 U.S. soldiers have died in the operation.
The friendly-fire incident appears to be a classic example of what can happen in a chaotic combat situation, with soldiers getting out of vehicles in bad light while trying to engage an unknown enemy on unfamiliar terrain. It also highlights the potential for problems that can come with assembling multinational forces -- in this case, an Afghan coalition fighter mistaken as the enemy touched off the volley of friendly fire.
"Blue on blue" fire has become less of a problem for U.S. forces in the modern era, as they increasingly rely on better technology for airstrikes and have fewer soldiers out in the field doing operational missions. Still, such attacks occur, especially at night.
"It can be very confusing, particularly in an environment like that," said Allan R. Millett, a professor of military history at Ohio State University and a retired colonel with the Marine Corps Reserve.
"Everybody is piling out of vehicles, and they pile out shooting. That's always a dangerous situation. Doctrine is to put out a lot of fire and keep moving. If people respond properly, there are a hell of a lot of bullets flying around. It sounds like Tillman was just unlucky."
Millett said modern-day friendly-fire incidents are statistically low, especially compared with previous wars. U.S. forces in World War II had about 40,000 friendly-fire deaths, or about 10 percent of total losses.
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 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, a safety with the Cardinals, 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 he wanted to be treated like other soldiers.
More than 600 NFL players served in the military during World War II and 19 were killed. One U.S. pro athlete -- James Robert Kalsu, an offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills -- was killed in combat in Vietnam.
About 3,000 people, including politicians, soldiers, professional athletes and relatives, honored Tillman at a 2 1/2-hour memorial service in San Jose on May 2. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spoke that day of Tillman's resolve.
"Pat's best service to us all was to remind us what courage really looks like," McCain said.
Last week, the owners of the 32 NFL teams began discussing how the league would pay tribute to Tillman. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue mentioned the possibility of a decal being placed on each player's helmet, but said no decisions had been made.
Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said in a midweek meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters that Tagliabue would honor the family's wishes.
"I know how Tagliabue feels about this," Upshaw said. "He wants to make sure that it's done with the best interests of the family and what the family wants."
Staff writers Thomas E. Ricks, Mark Maske and Steve Fainaru contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company