- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 30, 2004

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — The shots that killed Cpl. Pat Tillman, the football player who became a patriotic icon by giving up a $3.6 million contract to become an Army Ranger, probably came from his fellow soldiers, military officials said yesterday.

According to an Army investigation, Cpl. Tillman was fatally shot April 22 after an American soldier mistakenly fired on a friendly Afghan soldier in Cpl. Tillman’s unit, and other U.S. soldiers then fired in the same direction.

Initial reports by the Army had suggested that Cpl. Tillman was killed by enemy gunfire when he led his team to help another group of ambushed soldiers.

“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 statement to reporters at the Army Special Operations Command.

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

But an Afghan military official told the Associated Press yesterday that Cpl. Tillman died because of a “misunderstanding” when two mixed groups of American and Afghan soldiers began firing wildly in the confusion following a land mine explosion.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the Afghan official said, “[There] were no enemy forces” present when Cpl. Tillman died.

Gen. Kensinger, who heads Army Special Forces, took no questions yesterday morning after reading the Army statement. An Afghan Defense Ministry official declined to comment on whether enemy forces were present, while U.S. military officials in Afghanistan referred all queries to Fort Bragg.

In Washington, Pentagon officials refused to comment on the Afghan report.

According to the Army’s investigation, Cpl. Tillman’s team had split from a second unit when a Ranger whom the Army did not identify fired on a friendly Afghan soldier, mistaking him for the enemy.

Seeing the gunfire and not realizing its origin, other U.S. soldiers fired in the same direction, killing Cpl. Tillman and an Afghan soldier. Two other Rangers were wounded in the gunfight.

“The results of this investigation in no way diminished the bravery and sacrifice displayed by Cpl. Tillman,” Gen. Kensinger said.

Cpl. Tillman, 27, left his position as a starting safety for the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army following the September 11 terrorist attacks. He was posthumously promoted from specialist to corporal and awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star, one of the military’s highest honors, awarded for gallantry on the battlefield.

He became the first NFL player to die in combat since the Vietnam War. He was one of about 100 U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan since the United States invaded in 2001.

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