FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- The shots that killed 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 Saturday.
According to an Army investigation, Tillman was shot to death on
April 22 after a U.S. soldier mistakenly fired on a friendly Afghan
soldier in Tillman's unit, and other U.S. soldiers then fired in
the same direction.
Initial reports by the Army had suggested that 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 brief
statement to reporters at the Army Special Operations Command.
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 on
Saturday that 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 condition of anonymity, the Afghan official said, "[There] were no enemy forces" present when Tillman died.
Kensinger, who heads Army Special Forces, took no questions
Saturday 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
According to the Army's investigation, 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 that gunfire and not realizing its origin, other U.S.
soldiers fired in the same direction, killing 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," Kensinger said.
Tillman, 27, left his position as a starting safety for the
Arizona Cardinals to join the Army following the Sept. 11, 2001,
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.
Thousands of people, including celebrities and politicians,
attended a memorial service at Sun Devil Stadium earlier this
month. At a memorial service in his hometown of San Jose, Sen. John
McCain, R-Ariz., called him "a most honorable man."
"While many of us will be blessed to live a longer life, few of
us will ever live a better one," said McCain, who spent 5½
years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
A woman who answered the phone Saturday at the home of Tillman's
uncle, Hank Tillman, said the family would have no comment on the
findings in the Army's investigation.
At Fort Bragg, an officer with the 30th Engineer Battalion said
the circumstances of Tillman's death do not change his heroism.
"A lot of us sacrifice something, but no one sacrificed as much
as he did to join," Sgt. Matt Harbursky said as he prepared to
play a round of golf at the base course. "And it doesn't really
matter how he was killed, it's sad."
Prior to Saturday, the Army's most complete account of Tillman's
death came in his Silver Star citation, which said he was killed
after his platoon split into two sections for what officials called
a ground assault convoy. Tillman was in charge of the lead group.
When the trailing group came under mortar and small arms fire,
the Army said Tillman ordered his team to return.
"Through the firing, Tillman's voice was heard issuing fire
commands to take the fight to the enemy on the dominating high
ground," the citation said. "Only after his team engaged the
well-armed enemy did it appear their fires diminished."
The Afghan official gave the AP a differing account, based on
his conversation with an Afghan fighter from the group that was
separated from Tillman's. The Afghan soldier said the two groups
drifted apart during the operation in the remote Spera district of
Khost province, close to the Pakistani border.
"Suddenly the sound of a mine explosion was heard somewhere
between the two groups and the Americans in one group started
firing," the official said.
"Nobody knew what it was -- a mine, a remote-controlled bomb -- or what was going on, or if enemy forces were firing. The situation
was very confusing," the official said.
"As the result of this firing, that American was killed and
three Afghan soldiers were injured. It was a misunderstanding and
afterwards they realized that it was a mine that had exploded and
there were no enemy forces."
Tillman's platoon was in the area as part of an effort called
Operation Mountain Storm, in which they were charged with rooting
out Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.
Tillman became the first NFL player to die in combat since the
Vietnam War. He was one of about 100 U.S. soldiers to have been
killed in Afghanistan since the United States invaded in 2001.
Associated Press writer Stephen Graham contributed to this
report from Kabul, Afghanistan and AP Military Writer Robert Burns
contributed from Washington.