Sunday, December 05, 2004

Pat Tillman ... Victim of "Blue on Blue"?

At the time of this writing, most internet websites have not yet noticed this, but the Washington Post has announced that their information is that former Cincinatti football player (and later U.S. Army Ranger) Pat Tillman was the victim of 'Friendly Fire'.

Army Spun Tale Around Ill-Fated Mission

By Steve Coll
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 6, 2004; Page A01

Second in a two-part series.

Just days after Pat Tillman died from friendly fire on a desolate ridge in southeastern Afghanistan, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command released a brief account of his last moments.

The April 30, 2004, statement awarded Tillman a posthumous Silver Star for combat valor and described how a section of his Ranger platoon came under attack.

"He ordered his team to dismount and then maneuvered the Rangers up a hill near the enemy's location," the release said. "As they crested the hill, Tillman directed his team into firing positions and personally provided suppressive fire. . . . Tillman's voice was heard issuing commands to take the fight to the enemy forces."

It was a stirring tale and fitting eulogy for the Army's most famous volunteer in the war on terrorism, a charismatic former pro football star whose reticence, courage and handsome beret-draped face captured for many Americans the best aspects of the country's post-Sept. 11 character.

It was also a distorted and incomplete narrative, according to dozens of internal Army documents obtained by The Washington Post that describe Tillman's death by fratricide after a chain of botched communications, a misguided order to divide his platoon over the objection of its leader and undisciplined firing by fellow Rangers.

The Army's public release made no mention of friendly fire, even though at the time it was issued, investigators in Afghanistan had already taken at least 14 sworn statements from Tillman's platoon members that made clear the true causes of his death. The statements included a searing account from the Ranger nearest Tillman during the firefight, who quoted him as shouting "Cease fire! Friendlies!" with his last breaths.

Army records show Tillman fought bravely during his final battle. He followed orders, never wavered and at one stage proposed discarding his heavy body armor, apparently because he wanted to charge a distant ridge occupied by the enemy, an idea his immediate superior rejected, witness statements show.

But the Army's published account not only withheld all evidence of fratricide, but also exaggerated Tillman's role and stripped his actions of their context. Tillman was not one of the senior commanders on the scene -- he directed only himself, one other Ranger and an Afghan militiaman, under supervision from others. And witness statements in the Army's files at the time of the news release describe Tillman's voice ringing out on the battlefield mainly in a desperate effort, joined by other Rangers on his ridge, to warn comrades to stop shooting at their own men.

The Army's April 30 news release was just one episode in a broader Army effort to manage the uncomfortable facts of Pat Tillman's death, according to internal records and interviews.

During several weeks of memorials and commemorations that followed Tillman's death, commanders at his 75th Ranger Regiment and their superiors hid the truth about friendly fire from Tillman's brother Kevin, who had fought with Pat in the same platoon, but was not involved in the firing incident and did not know the cause of his brother's death. Commanders also withheld the facts from Tillman's widow, his parents, national politicians and the public, according to records and interviews with sources involved in the case.

On May 3, Ranger and Army officers joined hundreds of mourners at a public ceremony in San Jose, where Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer and Maria Shriver took the podium to remember Tillman. The visiting officers gave no hint of the evidence investigators had collected in Afghanistan.

In a telephone interview, McCain said: "I think it would have been helpful to have at least their suspicions known" before he spoke publicly about Tillman's death. Even more, he said, "the family deserved some kind of heads-up that there would be questions."

McCain said yesterday that questions raised by Mary Tillman, Pat's mother, about how the Army handled the case led him to meet twice earlier this fall with Army officers and former acting Army secretary Les Brownlee to seek answers. About a month ago, McCain said, Brownlee told him that the Pentagon would reopen its investigation. McCain said that he was not certain about the scope of the new investigation but that he believed it is continuing. A Pentagon official confirmed that an investigation is underway, but Army spokesmen declined to comment further.

(Further information may be found on the Washington Post website)


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.

1 comment:

Jerry The Geek said...

David Hackworth had some comments on WorldNetDaily about this blue-on-blue death. Essentially, he also says that 'this shit happens' and it's usually caused by confusion, stress and terror in battle.

He reserved his criticism for the US military, who chose to recommend Tillman for a Silver Star based on his heroic actions. Hackworth doesn't feel that Tillman's actions were worthy of that high award.

I'm not inclined to agree, although I admit that Col. Hackworth's experience makes him a much better authority. Tillman stood up in the middle of a firefight and did all he could to stop the friendly fire on the American unit. As far as I'm concerned, he couldn't have been more heroic if he had thrown himself on a grenade.

Hackworth thinks it was nothing more than a cover-up by the military, because they with-held information from the press which would have led to the understanding that Tillman was killed by American, not insurgent, forces.

But you can make up your own mind. Here's the link:

But you can make up