- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

A commander’s map-reading mistake, acute fatigue and a harsh desert environment combined to imperil the 507th Maintenance Company in a fierce Iraqi ambush that killed 11 soldiers and produced the capture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the Army says in a report.

In one of Operation Iraqi Freedom’s most famous battles, the bushwhacked company was dogged by sand-clogged weapons and an Iraqi enemy that fought by no rules on that March 23 morning.

“The element of the 507th Maintenance Company that bravely fought through An Nasiriyah found itself in a desperate situation due to a navigational error caused by the combined effects of the operational pace, acute fatigue, isolation and the harsh environmental conditions,” the 15-page report states. “The tragic results of this error placed the soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company in a torrent of fire from an adaptive enemy employing asymmetrical tactics.”

Slowed by heavy trucks stuck in the sand, the 18-vehicle company fell behind a column march of more than 600 trucks and utility Humvees as the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division made an unprecedented speedy invasion from Kuwait toward Baghdad.

The company commander, Capt. Troy King, was supposed to follow “Route Blue” on the map to a rendezvous point farther north called “Objective Ram.” When he reached an intersection south of the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, which required a left turn to stay on “Route Blue,” he directed the convoy straight north instead. This route took the soldiers into the outskirts of the city and then straight into the ambush.

In the end, nine 507th soldiers and two other soldiers traveling with it were killed; six were taken prisoner, including Pfc. Lynch, who was rescued from a Nasiriyah hospital eight days later by U.S. special-operations forces. Sixteen soldiers, including Capt. King, managed to escape from the ambush when Marines came to the rescue.

Army officials said its inquiry will establish “lessons learned” for future missions, but it does not plan to punish any 507th soldiers.

“Once engaged in battle, the soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company fought hard,” the report says. “They fought the best they could until there was no longer a means to resist. They defeated ambushes, overcame hastily prepared enemy obstacles, defended one another, provided life-saving aid and inflicted casualties on the enemy. The soldiers of the 507th upheld the Code of Conduct. … It is clear that every U.S. soldier did their duty.”

The report also does not discuss suspected war crimes by Iraqi military soldiers and paramilitaries either during the battle or while the six U.S. soldiers were in captivity. All survived as prisoners of war. Pfc. Lynch was rescued; the remaining five 507th members were found in relatively good health north of Baghdad as the war came to an end in April.

The Army’s Criminal Investigative Division is investigating the war-crimes aspect of the incident. The report says the details of how all 11 died in action are not known.

The Army was due to release the report yesterday, but delayed it pending review by the staff of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The Army previously gave copies to survivors of the 11 killed. The El Paso (Texas) Times displayed the report on its Web site. El Paso is home to Fort Bliss, where the 507th Maintenance Company is based.

The report says that as the convoy drove through Nasiriyah it passed armed Iraqis manning checkpoints. But the Iraqis did not fire their weapons at this point. The U.S. soldiers held fire. The rules of engagement required the enemy to show hostile intent.

When the convoy reached the northern edge of the city, Capt. King realized for the first time that he had veered from the designated route. He had the company make a U-turn and head back into the city, and ordered his troops to “lock and load” their weapons.

The soldiers again missed the required turn and had to make a second U-turn. Around this time, the 507th came under fire from grenade launchers and rifles. An intense 60- to 90-minute firefight marked by chaos and bravery ensued, with the convoy broken into three groups.

Pfc. Lynch, 19, the company clerk, rode in a Humvee driven by her close friend Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, 23. In the front seat was the unit’s senior enlisted man, 1st Sgt. Robert Dowdy. Ahead of them, a tractor-trailer took fire and stopped.

Pfc. Lynch’s vehicle also took a hit from a projectile. Pfc. Piestewa lost control and the Humvee smashed into the trailer at more than 45 mph. Sgt. Dowdy was killed on impact; Pfc. Piestewa suffered serious injuries and later died. Two soldiers in the back seat also were killed, although the exact circumstances of their deaths remain under investigation.

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