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Inquiry Cites Friendly Fire In Deaths of Two Soldiers

Associated Press
Thursday, December 20, 2007

Two U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq in February were killed by "friendly fire," according to a military investigation, which cited poor training and planning.

Spec. Alan E. McPeek, 20, of Tucson and Pvt. Matthew Zeimer, 18, of Glendive, Mont., were killed Feb. 2 at an Army outpost in Ramadi, in western Iraq. The soldiers' families initially were told the men were killed by enemy fire.

In response to a Freedom of Information request by the Associated Press, the military released its subsequent investigation into the deaths. The families were told in March that the soldiers may have been killed by their comrades.

The investigation found that the two were killed by tank fire from a second Army outpost after insurgents engaged both outposts from numerous locations. The tank gunner and commander thought they were taking on the enemy position, the investigation concluded.

The deaths were not a result of negligence, investigators said. Instead, "a series of decisions and actions by both the tank crews and their command, taken collectively, fell short of the high expectations we have of our soldiers and their leaders." It was not clear whether the Army reprimanded the tank crews and their command.

The report said their decisions and actions "directly created the conditions which caused this accident, including deficiencies in training, manning, mission preparation, target validation procedures, and tactical level friendly force marking that, if addressed and corrected, can limit fratricide such as this in the future."

The author of the report, whose name was omitted, said all parties acted prudently and genuinely, and tried to fire at Army targets. The recommendations were blacked out in the copy sent to the Associated Press.

An Army spokeswoman, Maj. Anne Edgecomb, said she could not say whether anyone was reprimanded. "The fact that these soldiers died as a result of fratricide in no way diminishes their sacrifice," she said.

Most names were also blacked out in the report, other than those of the two men who died.

According to Army officials in April, unit commanders in Iraq did not at first suspect the two men were killed by U.S. forces, but an investigation by the unit concluded that may have been the case.

The Army came under criticism over its handling of the death of pro football player Pat Tillman, who was killed in April 2004 by fellow U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Though dozens of soldiers knew quickly that Tillman had been killed by Americans, the Army said initially that he was killed by enemy gunfire when he led his team to help another group of ambushed soldiers. It was five weeks before his family was told the truth; the Army has blamed the delay on procedural mistakes.

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