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THE NATION

Tillman probe mishandled, Pentagon report will say

Officials misled public and the athlete's family about his `friendly fire' death in Afghanistan.

March 24, 2007|Julian E. Barnes | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A new Pentagon report found that nine officers, including a three-star general, mishandled the investigation into the "friendly fire" death in Afghanistan of Pat Tillman, the pro-football player turned Army Ranger, a senior defense official said Friday night.

The report will not mete out specific punishments to the officers, who include four generals in all. But the Army will begin its own review of what action should be taken.

"We are going to move quickly," an Army official said. "We found out mistakes were made. We've already made fixes. We are going to make more."

The investigative report by the Department of Defense Inspector General revealed few new details of the events leading to the accidental killing of Tillman by other U.S. soldiers. Instead, it investigated why it took the Army so long to reveal that Tillman was killed by friendly fire.

The two officials interviewed by The Times spoke on the condition their names not be revealed because the report has not yet been released.

The senior Defense official, who has been briefed on the investigation's conclusions and recommendations, said the Inspector General was critical of how the Army began its inquiry into Tillman's death and the steps taken to inform Tillman's family about the questions surrounding the incident.

The report found that officials made misleading public statements about Tillman's death, the official said.

When announcing it, Army spokesmen said he was killed by enemy fire. A month later, they said he was killed by friendly fire, triggered by an enemy ambush.

But Afghan fighters in the area have cast doubt on that story as well, and no bodies of enemy combatants were found.

"The I.G. looked at statements Army officials made and ... were people as forthcoming as they need to be? Did they pursue questions as they should?" the senior defense official said.

The conclusion, the official said, was that the Army was not as forthcoming and not as aggressive as it needed to be.

Tillman became the Army's post-Sept. 11 star recruit when he gave up a lucrative $3.6-million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the military along with his brother. After he was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, the Army quickly moved to award him a posthumous Silver Star for combat bravery.

The Inspector General's report is expected to be publicly released after a closed-door briefing Monday on Capitol Hill and after a meeting with Tillman's family.

Although the report did not focus on the chain of events that led to Tillman's death, the Army Criminal Investigations Command produced a short video that re-creates what happened on the Afghan mountainside where he died. That video is to be shown at the congressional briefing.

Tillman and his brother, Kevin, were members of 2nd Platoon, A Company 2nd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment, an elite unit. The brothers were assigned to root out "high value" Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the rough and mountainous country near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan.

According to an earlier investigation by Army Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, a series of mishaps led to the friendly fire incident. The platoon, ordered to move faster, split in two because of a disabled vehicle.

Tillman's group moved ahead but deviated from its planned route and then heard an explosion, which led the Rangers to believe the second group had come under attack. Tillman, another solider and an Afghan militia fighter climbed a hill, hoping to clear the enemy fighters.

A vehicle gunner from the second group, mistaking the Afghan for the enemy, opened fire on Tillman's three-man squad. Although both Tillman and a soldier near the gunner yelled for him to stop, he did not understand them.

Tillman also set off a smoke grenade in an effort to stop the firing, but the barrage of bullets killed him.

Questions have lingered around the Army's handling and disclosure of what happened that day. Previous investigations have found that the Army knew Tillman was killed by friendly fire far sooner than it was revealed.

The investigations also found that officers told soldiers to remain quiet about the circumstances surrounding Tillman's death. And the military has acknowledged that soldiers destroyed evidence -- Tillman's body armor and uniform -- after the shooting.

Army officials have apologized to Tillman's family for the lapses.

Tillman's parents have been critical of the military, accusing officials of deceiving them and hampering their ability to discover exactly what happened to their son.

The new report delves deeper into the process around the investigation, in addition to examining the misleading public statements about Tillman's death and others, the senior defense official said.

The Inspector General's report sought to ascertain who learned of the questions about Tillman's death and what was done to hinder or aid the full investigation.

Pentagon spokesmen on Friday night declined to comment on the report, saying they would learn its findings when it is released Monday.

In a statement, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said his service had not yet received the report.

He also said steps have been taken to address some of the problems the report is expected to detail.

"The Army did not wait for this investigation's conclusion to take important actions improving casualty-notification procedures and posthumous valor-award procedures over the past two years," Boyce said in the statement.

julian.barnes@latimes.com

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