Tillman’s Death Likely Friendly Fire

WaPo/AP — Army: Friendly Fire Likely Killed Tillman

Former pro football player Pat Tillman was “probably” killed by friendly fire as he led his team of Army Rangers up a hill during a firefight in Afghanistan last month, the U.S. Army said Saturday.

Tillman walked away from a $3.6 million NFL contract to join the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“While there was no one specific finding of fault, the investigation results indicate that Cpl. Tillman probably died as a result of friendly fire while his unit was engaged in combat with enemy forces,” Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger Jr. said in a brief statement to reporters at the Army Special Operations Command.

Kensinger said the firefight took place in “very severe and constricted terrain in impaired light” with 10 to 12 enemy combatants firing on U.S. forces.

A senior Pentagon official told The Associated Press it appeared the gunfire that killed Tillman came from a U.S. soldier, but since there were Afghan soldiers present also, it was not completely clear.

An Afghan military official told the AP on Saturday that Tillman died because of a “misunderstanding” when two mixed groups of American and Afghan soldiers began firing wildly in the confusion following an explosion.

The Afghan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also contradicted U.S. reports that the American soldiers had come under enemy fire.

While friendly fire deaths are hardly unusual, it is somewhat strange for an elite unit like the Rangers, since they are much better trained and should have better fire discipline. Obviously, this doesn’t diminish Tillman’s sacrifice, although it does make it more tragic.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.