Army Spun Tale Around Ill-Fated Mission
Monday, December 6, 2004; Page A01
Here's the Geek point of view:
Yes, if true it is a tragedy. Yes, it does happen.
Anyone who has been in combat will understand that friendly fire is a fact of war. When the bullets are flying, and there is a breakdown in communications, the fire of artillary and other crew-served weapons (just as is the case of individual weapons) is often pointed at unidentified military groups who may later be identified as friendly troops.
The "Fog of War" is a well-known phenomenon, and it often results in tragic consequences.
It is the result of over-reaction on the part of local commanders who are under fire, or are reacting to calls for support from those who are under fire, and who place their barrages upon friendly troops simply because they have not had their target correctly identified.
True, it sometimes happens that artillary fire is misplaced simply because of human error ... the individual who calls in the fire incorrectly locates the target, or the officer in charge of the artillary calculates the wrong target coordinates, or the artillary crew misapplies the charge, declension or direction. Most often (as is the case here, which was a crew-served weapon) the gunner directs fire on a target which has incorrectly been identified as the enemy.
There is no possibility of confirmation of the target by an objective observer; here, the gunner perceived that his unit was under fire from an enemy and responds as best he can.
It's not always easy to know who is shooting at you, when all you really know is that your friends are being shot at and killed. You do the best you can. You want to take the pressure off your own people, so you shoot at whatever targets present themselves outside your own perimeter.
This is what happened on that day.
Pat Tillman died because of an error, which can easily be second-guessed by our huge coterie of arm-chair quarterbacks who have likely never found themselves under fire.
This is far to similar to the situation in Fallujah where a Marine shot an insurgent who he perceived as a threat to himself and to his unit ... only to find in retrospect that the insurgent might not have been armed. That Marine could reasonably be excused for having assumed that someone who was 'faking' death had the intention of killing American troops.
The machine gunner who directed fire on the (unidentified) U.S. Ranger and his native guide might also be reasonably be excused for having assumed that someone who was outside his perimeter was a threat to American troops.
It's not something to be proud of, but it is certainly something which should be understood in light of the circumstances.