A Case of Fratricide: Who Killed Pat Tillman?

Lt. David Uthlaut, the leader of the Black Sheep platoon, radioed for help to have the $50,000 Humvee airlifted out by a Chinook cargo helicopter to end the delay, according to several documents from the Army investigation led by Jones. Uthlaut was told, according to the documents, that it would be three or four days until the helicopter would be available. And he was told he could not abandon the vehicle along the roadside or blow it up to keep it out of the hands of Afghan insurgents.

Back at the Camp Salerno base, Saunders, the company commander, ordered the platoon to be split. The Humvee, accompanied by 19 Rangers in five vehicles, was to be towed by a local driver to a designated "recovery point" on a road that branched off to the north, where it was to be retrieved by an Army wrecker. According to the plan, the platoon was then to reunite and hit its objectives the next morning, raiding nearby villages to look for weapons and high-value targets.

Had the platoon stayed together, it's possible the friendly-fire incident might not have happened. According to the November 2004 interview transcript of an officer involved in one of the Army's investigations, "The results that caused Corporal Tillman's death really had nothing to do with splitting that [platoon] up…" But the officer continues his sentence with, "…except for that the converging forces killed him."

After a six- to seven-hour layover in Magarah, the Rangers paid a local driver $120 to pull the crippled vehicle along the mountainous roads with his "jinga truck," a large, colorful rig used to cart everything from livestock to shrubs.

But 10 or 15 minutes after the now-split platoon's first unit -- which comprised Pat Tillman, 15 other Rangers and four AMF soldiers in six vehicles -- had left, the jinga truck driver, who had become part of the second unit, deemed the road to the chosen recovery point to be too treacherous. He began to follow the path of the first unit toward the village of Manah. In the deep canyon, the two groups temporarily lost radio contact with each other.

It was early evening, close to 6:45. Daylight was waning along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, though it wasn't quite dark enough for night vision goggles. Suddenly, small arms fire from Afghan insurgents rained down from high atop a ridge, and an explosion rocked the floor of the canyon near where the second serial was traveling. The Rangers still in the canyon had no place to hide.

Making matters worse, when the trailing convoy, including the disabled Humvee and the jinga truck, was caught in the ambush, the non-English-speaking jinga driver was out in front of the Army's elite soldiers. According to the transcripts of statements given by several witnesses, the jinga truck initially blocked the convoy's escape route through the canyon. Kevin Tillman was in the rear vehicle of the second serial, which had come under fire.

Beyond the canyon, the first group of Rangers, including Pat Tillman, dismounted near the tiny village of Sperah and moved into position to fire at the muzzle flashes visible at the top of the ridgeline and lay cover for the trailing convoy.

Pat Tillman and O'Neal took off to reach a position low on the ridgeline. The Afghan soldier, who had been in the vehicle behind Pat Tillman, followed them.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...