The Army will release a report tomorrow on the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company in Iraq that will show Pfc. Jessica Lynch and another female soldier suffered extensive injuries in a vehicle accident, but not from Iraqi fighters.
The deadly March 23 battle in Nasiriyah, in central Iraq, has emerged as perhaps the most famous incident in the war -- both for what happened and for what was reported to have happened, but did not.
The Army's 15-page report officially will debunk accounts that Pfc. Lynch emptied two revolvers at her attackers and was shot and stabbed before being taken prisoner of war. In fact, she was riding in a Humvee that was struck by a projectile during a frantic attempt to escape the ambush. She suffered "horrific injuries," said Pentagon sources familiar with the report.
Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, a good friend of Pfc. Lynch's, was driving the Humvee. The strike on the vehicle caused her to lose control. The utility vehicle smashed into a disabled tractor-trailer at more than 45 mph, critically injuring Pfc. Piestewa, the Pentagon sources said.
Rumors surfaced that Pfc Piestewa, 23, of Tuba City, Ariz., was killed by Iraqis at the scene. But the Pentagon sources said she died later at a Nasiriyah hospital of injuries suffered in the crash. She was the only military woman to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Pentagon statistics show.
Pfc. Lynch also was pulled from the wreckage and taken to the same hospital. "Lynch survived principally because of the medical attention she received from the Iraqis," one source said.
A week later, she became one of the war's most recognized faces. A combat camera crew recorded American special-operations forces carrying her broken body on a stretcher from the hospital to a rescue aircraft.
The report also will show that the company's senior enlisted soldier, 1st Sgt. Robert Dowdy, worked furiously to reorganize the 507th 13-vehicle convoy so it could make a retreat. Traveling in Pfc. Piestewa's Humvee, Sgt. Dowdy stopped, got out of the vehicle and tried to motivate other soldiers. Two soldiers whose truck was disabled got into the Humvee with Sgt. Dowdy and the two female soldiers.
"This was a fight," a Pentagon source said. "They got popped at different locations. There were battles. They were fighting back."
The Humvee sped away from the scene and likely was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. Sgt. Dowdy was killed instantly. A Pentagon source said it was not clear whether the two male soldiers in the back seat were killed by enemy fire or the accident.
The Army's report, which will be released at the Pentagon, was written by the service's Training and Doctrine Command, and by Army personnel at the Pentagon. It is based largely on an extensive commander's investigation, called a 15-6, which is the Army regulation that authorizes investigations of major incidents.
The sources said the 15-6 report itself will not be released. The Army's Criminal Investigative Command also is investigating the incident and its aftermath to see if any Iraqis have committed war crimes.
The report being released is restricted to the actions of soldiers in the ambush and does not deal with war-crimes issues or the time six 507th soldiers spent in captivity.
After the ambush, the Iraqis showed a videotape of some 507th members with gunshot wounds to the head in apparent execution-style killings. Of some 30 soldiers traveling in the convoy, 11 were killed and six, including Pfc. Lynch, were taken prisoner.
U.S. commandos rescued Pfc. Lynch, 19, on April 1 after her captives had fled the hospital. She suffered extensive fractures. After a series of surgeries, she is undergoing rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District.
The nation's fascination with the Palestine, W.Va., resident grew even more intense after The Washington Post reported in a front-page story that she had waged a fierce gunbattle with Iraqi attackers. The Post subsequently retracted that account in an extensive investigative story on the ambush and her hospital stay.
After the ambush, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said the company took a wrong turn. Instead of heading north to support a Patriot antimissile battery, the convoy ended up in a section of Nasiriyah teeming with Iraqi paramilitary and soldiers.
Pentagon sources said the 15-6 report does not find fault with the actions of any 507th member.
Fort Bliss, Texas, where the 507th is based, last week awarded medals for bravery to nine surviving members, including Sgt. Curtis Campbell, who fought off attackers.
"Actually, I was just doing my job," Sgt. Campbell told KFOX-TV in El Paso. "And there were so many individuals who collectively did so many great things. Given the situation that we were in, the training that we received helped us all to survive the situation. And because it was an ambush, the only way through an ambush is to go through and fight your way through, and each soldier did exactly what they were trained to do."