Army reviewing Afghan, Iraq casualty reports
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Cpl. Pat Tillman’s mother hopes the Army’s review of its casualty reports will help the families of soldiers killed in combat finally learn the facts about how their loved ones died.
“People will be able to come to terms with the truth, but if you were lied to once, then you’re always going to be distrustful,” said Mary Tillman.
Her son, who quit the NFL to join the Army Rangers, was killed by friendly fire in 2004, but his family was originally told he had been killed by enemy fire.
The Army is reviewing casualty reports on American soldiers killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere since 2001, a response to complaints that it has not always given families accurate information.
The review covers hundreds of casualties in Operation Enduring Freedom, the campaign in Afghanistan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, two senior military officials said.
It also includes American soldiers killed in neighboring countries in support of the two operations.
In coming weeks, the Army will issue a directive on the review, according to the military officials. One spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity because officers at the highest levels of the Army are still making minor changes. The other described the initiative in memos obtained by The Associated Press.
“We are actively screening every Criminal Investigation Command report to ensure that there were no disconnects with the Casualty Reporting System. We are about half way through with that mission,” one of the memos states.
The purpose of the forthcoming Army-wide order is to tell units in the field that they must inform the Army’s headquarters of any change in investigative findings that differs from what a family was initially told, a third official said.
Lt. Col. Dan Baggio, an Army spokesman, said that because of the constant turnover of units in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is important to remind troops that the casualty reports must agree with the actual events that occurred when a soldier was killed.
“It’s important to reinforce that the information we provide the families is accurate,” he said.
Brig. Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo, who heads the Army’s public affairs office, said the Army’s move is not new but a continuing “rigorous and routine review of current casualty cases with outstanding issues.”
Tillman’s family learned five weeks after his death that he was shot dead by fellow Rangers after an ambush. The military suspected it was a friendly fire death within hours, but failed to tell the Tillmans despite a regulation on the books directing it to do so, Mary Tillman said.
She called the move positive, but she said the Army must follow up and deliver any new information to surviving family members.
Two months after Tillman died, Lt. Andre Tyson and Spc. Patrick McCaffrey, two California National Guardsmen, were killed by the Iraqi civil-defense soldiers they were training.
The Army initially told the families the two men were killed in a conventional ambush. It was two years before their survivors learned they were slain.
The Army is not reopening investigations into the deaths of all soldiers killed in action, but it is revisiting them to ensure family members were informed of the Army’s most accurate and updated findings.
The review has been quietly under way for more than two months, but the directive has not yet been sent to units in the field.
It will order Army units down to the battalion level to dig up so-called 15-6 investigative reports routinely conducted after combat deaths.
Battalions that have been or are in Iraq or Afghanistan will be directed to ship copies of the initial casualty reports to top Army officials.
The Army will compare the initial reports to the follow-up investigations, looking for discrepancies in conclusions, according to military officials.
If the Army finds such a discrepancy, it will reappoint a casualty notification team, prepare a new report for the surviving family members and revisit the family to make personal notifications, one official said.
Marine Corps spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas said he was not aware of any similar review by the Marines.
A soldier’s death may result in multiple investigations for a number of reasons. Follow-up inquiries are often launched when a first layer of military investigators concludes they need to probe more deeply. For instance, sometimes a crime is suspected but investigators in the field do not have access to resources such as ballistics testing.
– Associated Press reporter Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.
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