Allied fire probably killed ex-NFL star, Army reports

Tilllman was leading his unit when he died

May 30, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Cpl. Patrick Tillman, the former football star turned Army Ranger who died in Afghanistan last month, was probably killed by allied fire while leading his unit in combat, the Army said yesterday.

Tillman, who died on April 22, "probably died as a result of friendly fire while his unit was engaged in combat with enemy forces," the Army said in a statement. An investigation made no specific finding of fault in the incident, it said.

Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger Jr., head of the Army Special Operations Command, read a statement summarizing an investigation into Tillman's death at a brief news conference at the command's headquarters at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Kensinger, who did not take questions, said the manner of Tillman's death did not diminish the bravery and sacrifice of someone who responded to enemy fire "without regard to his own safety."

The allied-fire account of Tillman's death was first reported yesterday by The Arizona Republic and The Argus of Fremont, Calif.

Tillman gave up a lucrative NFL contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army. He served in Iraq during his first tour of duty and was sent to Afghanistan for a second tour.

The athlete, who joined the Army in June 2002, was posthumously promoted from specialist to corporal and awarded a Purple Heart and the Silver Star for valor because of his actions.

At the time of his death, the Army said Tillman and an Afghan soldier had been killed, and two other Americans had been wounded, when they came under attack southwest of their base in the town of Khost, near the Pakistan border. The Army said his platoon was not initially in danger, but Tillman led his unit up a hill and directed their fire to support another unit that had been ambushed.

Near the top of the hill, he was shot while firing his rifle, the service said.

An unclassified summary of the Army's investigation into the incident, also released yesterday, said the platoon was moving to another sector when one of its vehicles broke down. On April 22, the platoon was split, with one section towing the incapacitated vehicle and the other moving forward to the next operations area in a different direction.

A half-hour later, the report said, the tow unit came under attack, and Tillman's portion of the platoon came back to help. During the resulting clash, it continued, a Ranger squad leader mistakenly identified an Afghan soldier ally as part of the enemy force and fired at him. Other members of the platoon, seeing the squad leader's direction of fire, shot in the same direction, fatally wounding Tillman and the Afghan soldier, the report said.

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