When Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch's lost maintenance company was ambushed in Nasiriyah, Iraq, on March 23, many of the unit's soldiers were unable to defend themselves because their weapons malfunctioned, according to an Army report.
"These malfunctions," the report says, "may have resulted from inadequate individual maintenance in a desert environment" where sand, heat and improper maintenance combined to render the weapons inoperable.
The report on the incident, scheduled to be released this week, adds new details to the circumstances reported last month by The Washington Post, which described how the 18-vehicle convoy got lost in the southern Iraqi city after its company commander, Capt. Troy King, did not receive word that the larger column it was following had changed routes. The convoy then made several navigational errors, which required the slow, lumbering vehicles to make two U-turns in the middle of hostile territory.
One half of the 507th Maintenance Company, 33 soldiers in all, had fallen as much as 12 hours behind the miles-long column of vehicles moving north. Eleven of the company's soldiers were killed in combat or died from injuries; six were captured by Iraqi forces and later freed, including Lynch. The remaining 16 sped to safety.
U.S. officials, relying on unconfirmed, initial intelligence reports from Iraq, told The Post after Lynch's rescue on April 1 that she fired at Iraqi troops until her ammunition ran out and that she was either shot or stabbed. The investigation found that Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed, but sustained most of her injuries after the Humvee she was riding in crashed into another Army vehicle.
The Army report said the unit's soldiers "fought the best they could until there was no longer a means to resist. They defeated ambushes, overcame hastily prepared enemy obstacles, defended one another, provided life-saving aid, and inflicted casualties on the enemy."
The Army does not intend to bring disciplinary action against any unit member, said one Army official, who declined to be named because the report has not been released.
The report offers new insight into the harrowing 60 to 90 minutes in which members of the convoy took heavy fire while trying to rescue their comrades. It said they were dealing with vehicles and weapons that broke down when they were most needed.
The unit's 18-vehicle convoy had broken into three clusters as the unit retraced its route. "Most soldiers" in the first group reported that their M-16s malfunctioned as they tried to "return fire while moving," the report said.
When Cpl. Damien Luten, sitting in the passenger seat of a 5-ton tractor-trailer in the second group, attempted to fire the unit's only .50-caliber machine gun, it failed, the report said. Luten was wounded in the leg while reaching for his M-16. Spec. James Grubb, in the passenger seat of a 5-ton fuel truck, "returned fire with his M-16 until wounded in both arms, despite reported jamming of his weapon," it said.
The third group of vehicles, which included the Humvee in which Lynch was riding, also had weapons problems.
After Lynch's Humvee crashed, Sgt. James Riley ran with two other soldiers to see if the vehicle's occupants could be saved. His weapon jammed. Riley reached for 1st Sgt. Robert Dowdy's M-16 to use instead. Dowdy had been killed instantly in the crash. Riley ordered the two soldiers with him to take cover and then tried to use each of their M-16s against the Iraqis. "But both jammed," the report said.
The two soldiers, Spec. Edgar Hernandez and Spec. Shoshana Johnson, were wounded, and "with no means to continue to resist, Sgt. Riley made the decision to surrender the two soldiers and himself."
Spec. Joseph Hudson attempted to fire his M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon as he drove a huge wrecker towing a 5-ton tractor-trailer that had broken down. But the weapon malfunctioned. After driving past obstacles and debris strewn in his path, the vehicle broke down on the southern edge of the city as he neared safety. Iraqi forces fired on the stalled wrecker, killing Hudson's passenger, Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata.
Hudson, "also wounded, was immediately surrounded after the shooting stopped, and was pulled from the vehicle by Iraqis and captured."
Hudson, Riley, Miller, Hernandez and Johnson were later freed from captivity.
U.S. officials also said recently that Lynch's weapon may have jammed during the ambush. Because she was seated between two other soldiers, however, it is also possible she did not fire it, one Army official said yesterday.
The report, which was published on the El Paso Times Web site yesterday, does not refer to Lynch's weapon having jammed.
Army investigators said Lynch was mistreated during captivity, but they have not been specific. Lynch has told family members she does not recall all her time in captivity and the report does not address the matter, which is under review in connection with a possible war crimes prosecution.