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Archive for Thursday, April 5, 2007

Army: Friendly fire may have killed 2

April 5, 2007

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— A week after acknowledging a litany of errors in the friendly fire death of former NFL star Pat Tillman, the Army said Wednesday two soldiers who died in Iraq in February may also have been killed by their own comrades.

The Army said it is investigating the deaths of Pvt. Matthew Zeimer, 18, of Glendive, Mont., and Spc. Alan E. McPeek, 20, of Tucson, Ariz., who were killed in Ramadi, in western Iraq, on Feb. 2. The families of the two soldiers were initially told they were killed by enemy fire.

According to Army Col. Daniel Baggio, unit commanders in Iraq did not at first suspect they were killed by U.S. forces, but an investigation by the unit concluded that may be the case.

A supplemental report filed Feb. 28 suggested that the initial reports might have been wrong but that an investigation was still under way, he said. According to the Army, the unit did not include friendly fire in that report "because they were reluctant to make the claim until the unit-level investigation was complete."

It took another month before the families of the two soldiers were told, on March 31, that friendly fire was suspected.

Rose Doyle, McPeek's mother, declined to discuss the latest development. "I don't feel comfortable talking," she said. "Whatever I say isn't going to bring my son back."

Wednesday's disclosure comes on the heels of the announcement on March 26 that nine high-ranking Army officers, including four generals, made critical errors in reporting the friendly fire death of Tillman, an Army Ranger, in Afghanistan. The military found no criminal wrongdoing in the shooting of the former Arizona Cardinals defensive back.

Three other soldiers were wounded in the incident that killed Zeimer and McPeek. There has been no indication whether they were also hit by friendly forces.

According to published reports at the time of the incident, McPeek, Zeimer and other soldiers came under attack by insurgents at their outpost in central Ramadi. A report in the Army Times newspaper said the two soldiers ran to a roof to fight back, but a shot was fired through a concrete wall near them and the impact killed them.

Army officials said they could not confirm those early reports, and they said they have no new details on what actually happened.

"What this suggests is there was the confusion that you frequently find on the battlefield," said Army spokesman Paul Boyce. "As soon as there is information that contradicts the initial report about the circumstances of a soldier's death, we notify the family about that suspicion."

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., whose office was notified about the investigation, said, "Hopefully, this will bring some answers and perhaps some closure for everyone. Regardless of the findings, this young man is a hero that has earned the respect of an entire nation."

According to reports, Zeimer had been in Iraq only about a week and reported to the outpost just two hours before the attack. McPeek was wrapping up his tour in Iraq.

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