Friday, May 23, 2003

The Army is investigating the Iraqi ambush of a maintenance company that resulted in nine dead soldiers and six prisoners of war, including the capture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch.

Brig. Gen. Howard Bromberg, who commands the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command at Fort Bliss, Texas, ordered the probe by a team of officers, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon said yesterday. Col. Joe Curtin said the “extremely complex” investigation should be completed soon.

One question the team is addressing is the plight of 19-year-old Pfc. Lynch, whose capture by Iraqis and subsequent rescue by an allied special-operations team propelled her to folk-hero status across America.

The Washington Post reported that she staged a fierce fight before capture, emptying a gun and killing Iraqi attackers before being stabbed and shot herself.

But two Pentagon officials in interviews cast doubt on that report. The officials said all evidence suggests that Pfc. Lynch’s truck crashed in the chaos of the ambush in the central Iraqi town of Nasiriyah. She suffered several bone fractures and was in no position to put up a fight, the officials said.

But a final determination will await the commander’s inquiry, or “15-6,” which refers to the regulation authorizing such investigations.

“Part of it will look at what happened to each of the soldiers,” Col. Curtin said. “It will determine whether [Pfc. Lynch] was in an accident. When the ambush hit, did the vehicle wreck or did she fight?”

The West Virginian is undergoing treatment and rehabilitation at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. She has told investigators she has no memory of events from the time of the ambush on March 23 until her rescue.

Her unit, the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Co., was moving from Kuwait that day in support of Patriot antimissile batteries being positioned farther north inside Iraq. U.S. Central Command officials have said the company got lost and drove into Nasiriyah by mistake and was unprotected by combat units.

A band of paramilitary Iraqis attacked the truck convoy from all sides. One survivor said the unit immediately descended into chaos and that some of the soldiers’ guns jammed.

The commander’s inquiry will look into all issues concerning the incident, including leadership, training, any mechanical failures and tactics.

“The goal is lessons learned. Corrective action,” Col. Curtin said.

He said Gen. Bromberg may seek judicial and administrative punishment if misconduct is found by any 507th member.

In a parallel investigation, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command is investigating the ambush to determine whether Iraqis committed war crimes. It is against international law to execute POWs. Nine 507th soldiers died in the ambush or afterward and were found in shallow graves.

Video images of some on Iraqi television appeared to show bullet wounds to the forehead.

Pfc. Lynch’s Walter Reed medical team earlier this month released a statement on her progress, after surgery to repair a broken bone in her foot. The hospital said it was likely to be the last in a series of surgeries to repair broken bones.

“Her medical team says her injuries are healing at a satisfactory rate, and there have been no unexpected complications,” the hospital said.

“This week, they increased her therapy sessions to twice daily. Occupational therapy helps her with activities of daily living, such as combing her hair, brushing her teeth and other personal hygiene matters,” it said. “The physical therapy is designed to help her increase her strength and flexibility.”

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