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Conspiracies always start with a kernel truth. The situation that begins the "cover up" conspiracy, beyond the "murdered" conspiracy, is the flow of information after the immediate incident. Soldiers in the field describe war as moments of sheer adrenaline followed by long periods of extreme boredom. The firefight that precipitated Tillman's death was intense and over in minutes. This was followed by hours of pulling security, reconnaissance of the area, waiting for the medevac, and planning for the continuing mission. A mission that turns out to be more than "clearing" a village.
According to interviews with the Platoon Leader, the mission was sensitive. They had received information that 100 Taliban were planning on crossing the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan to attack BCPs (Border Crossing Points) manned by the AMF (Afghan Military). 2nd Platoon of the 2/75th, Tillman's platoon, was tasked with visiting several BCPs and moving to Tit, Afghanistan where the suspected fighters and/or leaders were coordinating.
After the fight was over, 3rd Platoon moved up to provide security. While the story moves along, between the end of the firefight, the arrival of 3rd Platoon and the subsequent Medevac of the casualties, it was four hours.
A member of serial 2 arrived on the scene, discovering that Tillman was dead and conferred with the remaining member of Serial 1, both indicating that they felt this was probably fratricide.
PLT leader with Serial 1 retrieved the radio and called in the situation to TOC. He called in a nine line requesting medevac for himself and his radio man. He was told that there were two friendlies KIA by the squad leader. He called back to TOC and requested a second medevac for the KIA.
TOC informs 1st Platoon and 3rd Platoon of the situation and they move out to make contact with 2nd Platoon.
Two body bags were brought up and Tillman and the AMF were placed inside along with whatever gear and personal effects could be found in the immediate vicinity.
During this time, the last elements of serial 2 from 2nd Platoon had cleared the canyon. Kevin Tillman was in the last GMV. The Platoon Sergeant from serial 1 instructed Kevin Tillman to pull security on serial 2's vehicles. In his statement (pages 612-614) he said he was not informed there were casualties. He was not informed that his brother was KIA. Nor was he informed that it was possible fratricide. While the Platoon Sergeant and several others discussed the probability, they were not prepared to state it emphatically. His first priority was to secure their area, clear the adjacent village and set up a landing zone. He was not prepared to discuss Pat Tillman's death with his brother.
They were also down to seventeen men. Three of which were the shooters and one had witnessed Tillman's death. The entire platoon was shaken by the incident. He was doing what good leaders do: get the men performing their duties and don't give them time to dwell. They were in hostile territory with several hours before relief could arrive. They needed to be aware in case the enemy returned to follow up on the ambush.
As the Platoon Sergeant organized the SKEDCOs for removal of the casualties, he directed another member of serial 1 to join Kevin Tillman to provide security. Kevin Tillman asks him if he has seen Pat. When he doesn't reply, Kevin Tillman asks again and is told that Pat is KIA (according to this witness, Kevin Tillman became hysterical; a second platoon member indicates that Kevin is screaming) . When the casualties are med-evaced to FOB Salerno, Kevin Tillman accompanies the body. This is the correct decision. The Platoon Sergeant is insuring that the appropriate procedures are followed and the chain of command will provide any additional information to Kevin and the Tillman family.
3rd Platoon arrived and took control of the security. Several members of 2PLT indicate they believe this was a friendly fire incident. Because it is dark, 3PLT leader decides to secure the area and wait for morning. Everyone beds down for the night.
Back at base, those at the TOC who heard the nine line medevac knew there were casualties. One of the officers listened to the codes that indicated which members of the platoon were wounded and KIA. He looked them up on the roster and determined that one of the KIA was Pat Tillman. There were four other officers in the room with him. This is what they know:
2 WIA/Wounded (Platoon Leader and Radioman)
2 KIA (Pat Tillman and AMF soldier Thani/Thanos)
The unit was ambushed by enemy fighters in a canyon outside the village of Magareh, Afghanistan. Pat Tillman was killed in the firefight.
When the casualties arrived they were sent to the FST (Field Surgical Team). The surgeon in charge declared Pat Tillman and the AMF dead on arrival. The two WIA are treated and kept at the FST. Guards are placed on the WIA. The word is quickly spreading across the base that Pat Tillman was killed in an enemy attack. Members of the press are on the base and searching for information. The clock is ticking quickly for the command. Tillman's fame, the spread of information and the presence of the press has placed severe time constraints on how long they have to notify the family and provide the first press release. Normal time for notification to the family and definitive press release with confirmation of casualties and events is 24 to 72 hours.
This presents a problem for Command. Particularly as the next of kin is Kevin Tillman who is on base. Once that notification is completed, the POA can release the casualty information to the press.
One of the first reports to circulate is that Tillman is killed "charging up a hill" to engage the enemy. This incorrect information likely has one source: the Platoon Leader. During the firefight when Pat Tillman was killed:
The PLT leader and the man with him take fire and attempt to move to the other side of the house. The second man has a radio and is trying to contact TOC to alert them to their position. The PLT leader is hit in the face by a piece of shrapnel from a round that strikes the house and the radio man is also struck. Neither of them can see what is happening after that.
When he arrives at the base, he has no idea that Tillman has died by friendly fire. The last interaction he had with Tillman was a brief discussion on the hill about who Tillman will take for his fire team (which includes the AMF) and what position. Tillman asks his Platoon Sergeant if his squad can drop their body armor and assault the ridge. The body armor is heavy and not conducive to climbing the steep, rocky hillside. He is told "no", not to drop his armor and that the RTO (radio operator) is attempting to coordinate close air support. The Platoon Sergeant directs Tillman to the rocky spur (where he is eventually killed), telling him to not go any further forward. This is to protect Tillman and his fire team from the potential blast.
This is the most likely source for Tillman's "charge up the hill". At this point, it is uncertain whether this information is officially released by the military or if it is rumor picked up by the press.
At the base, Tillman's body is released to the company mortuary affairs by the surgeon in charge. He did not know who he treated until the next morning. 1st Sgt HHC (headquarters and headquarters company) was tasked with identifying Pat Tillman's remains. When he arrived at mortuary affairs, he assisted in removing Tillman's body armor, MOLLE and Nomex gloves placing them in a bag. When he removed Tillman's body armor, he noted that the top right hand corner of the front plate was smashed (correlating with the "thermal marks" that the ME noted during autopsy). He handed them to a supply Sgt.
It is the late hours of April 22 (the day Tillman was killed) or the very early hours of April 23. The Platoon Leader of 3rd Platoon who relieved 2nd Platoon (Tillman's Platoon) has not yet performed a preliminary review of the site nor called in a request for a friendly fire incident investigation (via an AR 15-6). Which he does, following procedures, on the morning of April 23. No one on base is aware that this is a potential fratricide.
The supply Sgt says he took the RBA (Ranger Body Armor not to be confused with the basic interceptor) to a burn site. He states that the right, top front corner of the plate was "crushed", but he didn't know whether it was from being dropped or from a round. He didn't recall any other rounds or holes in the armor or gear. The supply Sgt removed the plates and noted a small, green notebook inside the RBA. In his words, "the kind we use to make notes in the field". He said that there appeared to be an objective name written on the front. He said he did not look inside. Since it contained possible sensitive information about an operation, he burned it along with the gear.
This is the "diary" that is "missing" that plays some central role in certain conspiracy theories. In fact, Tillman has two "diaries". One is actually a personal journal that he keeps at the rear. This journal is given to Kevin Tillman along with Pat Tillman's dog tags and ruck sack (see pages 612-614) after he returned to the base with Pat Tillman's body and the casualty notification officer first tells Kevin that Pat Tillman has three wounds to the head (not stated as yet but suspect that there was discussion about Kevin viewing his brother's body).
The small, green, "flap" notebook is waterproof. This is what the special agents through out investigation continue questioning Tillman's platoon mates regarding this "diary". The concept of a "diary" and "mission notebook" does not appear in these questions. Possibly because Kevin Tillman himself has asked for this "diary". Several indicate they know he keeps a "journal", but haven't seen him with it. Two know he writes in a journal, but believe it is at base. Three, including the Platoon Leader, notes that Tillman wrote in the "green, flap notebook" during the mission. One notes that Tillman wrote in it at the village they were broken down in before the firing incident.
It is unclear whose description of this "diary" is appropriate. Kevin Tillman believes it is a second personal diary based on his statement. The sergeant who said he burned it believes it was simply an operational note book to jot down mission notes.
On the burning of clothing and gear, the supply Sgt indicates that, while it is common to burn contaminated clothing that might present a bio-hazard (app directives provided on page 628), it is not common to burn equipment like the RBA or the MOLLE if it can be cleaned and redistributed for use in the company. However, he indicates when he opens the bag that the RBA was saturated with blood and "matter" as well as the NOMEX gloves. Following procedures, he decides to burn it due to its condition. He says that he is not directed by anyone above him to do so, but believed he was following proper procedures.
This action also lends to the conspiracy theory that someone was trying to cover up the incident. However, no one at the base knows that this is a fratricide at this time. No one has reason to believe that an AR 15-6 (informal investigation) into a friendly fire incident or criminal investigation will be opened and that anything needs to be retained as evidence. They are simply following basic procedures to dispose of potentially bio-hazardous materials.
However, there are contravening orders regarding the clothing and body armor of deceased soldiers. If they are deceased "in the field" and no medical aid can be rendered, the body armor and clothing are to remain with the deceased. The MEs at Dover explain that, even without a formal criminal investigation, they collect raw data on the damage to the equipment in order to improve the body armor at future dates. The ME does indicate that less than %50 of all casualties arrive with their clothes and equipment. Largely because many of the deceased do receive some sort of medical treatment before expiration and the clothes are removed during treatment. Sometimes because the mortuary affairs need to use other identifying marks and sometimes because mortuary affairs at the front do not know that they need to send this equipment (this is based on the MEs estimation).
To add to the confusion, another sergeant reports that he stored the body armor, had it packed and returned to Ft. Lewis Washington along with other gear. Both sergeants indicate that they completed an inventory sheet regarding the disposition of the armor. [update:this turns out to be the body armor of another ranger, identification unknown, who was also struck by friendly fire. His body armor had impact points to a magazine in the right front, lower pocket; some may be "ricochets" off another object per the crime lab report and detailed analysis page]
All of these events lend to the "perfect storm" that Deputy Secretary of the Army Geren refers to in causing confusion and complications in resolving the matter. All of the actors at this level are simply performing their functions as they believe are appropriate. (see Geren -37 mins long, to be reviewed in next installment Pentagon Briefing 31 July 2007)
On the morning of April 23, Tillman is flown to Bagram, Afghanistan accompanied by his brother Kevin. 3rd Platoon Leader requests and investigation be opened into the friendly fire incident. The rest of 2nd Platoon returns to FOB Salerno. 1st Platoon and 3rd Platoon continue the mission to Tit, Afghanistan after some investigation into the ambush in adjacent village of Magareh. Five days later, they capture five individuals believed to be responsible for the ambush based on information from the local population.
April 23 or 24 (date unclear) 2nd Platoon conducts an AAR (after action review/report) where the platoon members discuss the event and conclude that it was, in fact, fratricide. Several squad members from the GMV1, serial 2 indicate that they believe they shot into Pat Tillman's position. A chaplain is made available for those of the platoon who request assistance. The Company Commander appoints a presiding officer to conduct the AR 15-6 investigation.
All those involved are told that their mission was sensitive and that, due to the ongoing investigation, OPSEC (operational security) should be followed. Most of them believe this means that they cannot discuss any part of the incident with anyone outside of the command or the investigating body. The platoon members remain open and forthcoming about the incident with their command and the investigating officer. No one believes they are contributing to a "cover up". Most of the field officers believe that they are also following procedures regarding not releasing information on an on-going investigation.
The problem is compounded here: Lt Gen. Kisinger and among several officers.
Pat Tillman: Death and Conspiracy Part I - How it Begins (including original links to Army CID investigation materials)
Pat Tillman: Death and Conspiracy Part II - Trajectory
Pat Tillman: Death and Conspiracy Part IV - Withholding Information
Pat Tillman: Death and Conspiracy - The Press at it's Best
Pat Tillman: Death and Conspiracy - Olbermann is an Idiot