By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
March 26, 2007 – Army Spc. Patrick D. Tillman was accidentally shot and killed by members of his divided Ranger unit after part of it had been ambushed by enemy fighters in a canyon in Afghanistan, senior Defense Department and Army officials told reporters here today. An early unit-level report listed Tillman as being killed by hostile fire, acting DoD Inspector General Thomas Gimble told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.
However, findings of follow-on investigations showed that Tillman was the accidental victim of friendly fire, Gimble said. Yet, Tillman's parents weren't told that their son had died in that manner, he said, until a memorial service held weeks after his death.
"What should have happened (is) the moment that they'd suspected fratricide, there should have been a supplemental notification that processed through (the chain of command and to Tillman's family)," Gimble said.
This situation represents "a failure to follow the directives," and it's inexplicable at this point as to why the supplemental notification wasn't made, Gimble said.
Follow-up investigations will determine why the proper notification was delayed, Gimble said. At least nine individuals, including a general, have been identified for further questioning involving this and other administrative aspects surrounding the reporting of Tillman's death, he added.
Tillman, who was posthumously promoted to corporal, died at age 27 on April 22, 2004, on a hillside located not far from Afghanistan's border with Pakistan. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion of the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment, based at Fort Lewis, Wash.
Gimble and Army Brig. Gen. Rodney Johnson, commander of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, briefed reporters on the findings of two separate investigations into Tillman's death initiated by the DoD IG and Army investigators in 2005.
There was no criminal intent involved in the former National Football League player's death, Johnson said, noting that was the focus of his investigation. Soldiers in Tillman's unit bore him no ill will, he said.
Prior to the enemy attack, Tillman's company commander had divided the unit into two groups, Johnson said, and the command was towing a disabled vehicle. Tillman's section had just passed through a canyon, Johnson said, when enemy fighters engaged the trailing group.
Tillman requested and received permission to go back on foot with another American and an Afghan soldier to try to help the ambushed convoy, Johnson said. As the besieged Americans passed through the canyon in their vehicles, some of its soldiers mistook Tillman, standing midway on a hill overlooking the scene, for an enemy soldier. The American troops fired on Tillman, killing him, the Afghan soldier, and wounding the other U.S. soldier, Johnson said.
The DoD IG and Army investigations each performed a ground survey of the site where Tillman died, Gimble said. Investigators working the two investigations interviewed hundreds of people, he said, including eye-witnesses.
The DoD IG was focused on discovering if the proper administrative processes were followed surrounding reporting of Tillman's death, including the notification of his next of kin, as well as award processing, Gimble said. Not all of the information in Tillman's Silver Star Medal paperwork was accurate, he said, noting further investigation of this matter will be performed.
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