WASHINGTON (AP) - The Army says mistakes and malfunctions, starting with an officer's unexplained navigational error, led the Army's 507th Maintenance Co. into an ambush in southern Iraq that ended in the deaths of 11 soldiers and the capture of six, including Pfc. Jessica Lynch.
An Army report reconstructing the chaotic events of March 23 - the third day of the war - concludes that every soldier in the 507th performed honorably and "did his or her duty."
One of the soldiers who survived the ordeal, Sgt. Curtis Campbell, applauded his comrades' bravery.
"Many of these guys fought with courage and distinction," he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "A lot of these guys' stories haven't been told in their entirety. They made the ultimate sacrifice."
Campbell was shot in the shoulder while trying to return fire.
The report assigns no individual blame but it makes clear that trouble began when the unit's commander, Capt. Troy King, took the wrong route. That mistake put his convoy of 33 soldiers in 18 vehicles on a path to tragedy.
The report does not address Iraqi treatment of the U.S. captives.
It said the unprecedented speed of the U.S. ground advance from assault positions in northern Kuwait was a contributing factor because it overextended the 507th support convoy's communications. The report also said "human error further contributed to the situation through a single navigational error that placed these troops in the presence of an adaptive enemy."
King, who survived the ambush, was supposed to have taken a road, code-named Route Jackson, that bypassed the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah as the 507th advanced north in the early morning hours of March 23 from an intermediate position south of Nasiriyah. Instead, for reasons that are not explained in the report, King took a road into Nasiriyah, which was still under Iraqi military control.
"The element of the 507th … that bravely fought through Nasiriyah found itself in a desperate situation due to a navigational error caused by the combined effects of the operational pace, acute fatigue, isolation and the harsh environmental conditions," the report said.
"The tragic results of this error placed the soldiers … in a torrent of fire from an adaptive enemy," it said.
On its initial pass through Nasiriyah the 507th did not encounter enemy fire, but when King realized that he had strayed from his intended route he decided to retrace the convoy's path, and they then began to receive sporadic small arms fire. A series of miscues and malfunctions followed, including breakdowns of vehicles that split the convoy into smaller groups.
Some vehicles got stuck in the sand. Batteries for some radios went dead. At least one vehicle ran out of gas. The 507th's only .50-caliber machine gun malfunctioned. Other weapons jammed.
The report suggested the 507th - comprising mechanics, cooks and other support personnel - had not correctly maintained their guns while on the move through the dusty desert conditions.
Of 33 people and 18 vehicles ambushed, only 16 soldiers in eight vehicles got away, the report said. Two soldiers in the convoy were from the 3rd Forward Support Battalion and are among the 11 killed.
Lynch received numerous injuries - and four comrades riding with her were killed - after their Humvee utility vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed into another vehicle in their convoy at a speed of roughly 45 mph, officials said. She is still hospitalized in Washington.
The (Portland) Oregonian in Wednesday editions quoted families of fallen soldiers who the paper said are frustrated because the Army has told them no one likely will be disciplined.
"I'm not a spiteful person," said Randy Kiehl of Comfort, Texas, who lost his only son, James, in the attack. "I don't want a witch hunt. But, yes, I think someone should be held accountable."
"Nothing can bring James back," he was quoted as say. "But let's make it right."
In its report, the Army called the episode "a tragedy not unlike those that have occurred in past conflicts in which this nation has engaged." It was the deadliest day of the Iraq war for U.S. forces.
More than three dozen medals have been awarded to soldiers in the ambush, including Bronze Stars, Purple Hearts and Prisoner of War Medals, officials said. Pfc. Patrick Miller, whom the report said may have killed as many as nine Iraqi fighters during the battle, was awarded a Silver Star.
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