Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Can We Allow Cpl. Tillman to Rest In Peace?

The Pentagon Monday briefed the death of Cpl. Pat Tillman and the debacle which followed. The report is clearly an exhaustive effort to determine what was already known. Tillman, a great patriot who turned down an NFL career to become a soldier, died in a friendly fire incident in a remote part of Afghanistan in April 2004. His company commander decided to split his platoon to save a broken truck and continue a combat mission at the same time. They had poor communication. There was an elusive enemy who apparently attacked one squad. Tillman’s squad thought it could help – but ended up being targets for the squad under attack who mistook them for enemy fighters on a ridge.
Fog of war, sure.
Poor leadership decisions, bad communication and a bunch of tense and scared young men – who are well-trained to kill - getting fired upon while patrolling a remote Afghan landscape. But he didn’t die for freedom, democracy or 9/11.

He died serving as a Ranger, trying to do his best to keep himself and his buddies intact through some bizarre situation.
His leaders failed him. Then they tried to cover it up. They lied to get him a Silver Star. Then they held the truth from his family. These are not the Army values instilled in every U.S. soldier – the ones they are forced to wear on a metal plate around their neck with the dog tags that will identify their corpse.

But why has the DoD made such an effort to determine what went awry? They spent millions on this, unlike all the other troops who are killed in uncertain situations - he was after all a NFL player. But it says something about our mission to fight terror, wanting to hide bad news - and most of all, how we corrupt ourselves in times of confusion. Parts of this war has us questioning the values we defend.
If you can find the time, read through the DoD transcript – as detailed as it is vague with military terminology that most will not understand. DoD Transcript Link:

What hit me about the briefing - either this Brigadier General Rod Johnson is severely out of touch with Joe terminology in Afghanistan or someone needs to shoot the transcriber.
What we called jingle trucks in Afghanistan– the heavily-decorated Pakistani supply trucks that “jingle” from their ornate chains hanging down – are referred to as JINGA trucks (??) Or the “coast highway,” they refer to when there is no “coast” for a thousand miles. Then it hit me – they meant the Khost highway – the road that leads to the Afghan town of Khost – which should be pronounced with a throaty “kh” – like the Germans or Russians often use – but the transcription appears to make it the highway near the beach – good lord, how will this be conveyed through the press?

Apparently, the AP did some team coverage from the national desk – leading with Tillman’s family and their disappointment with the military.

There are some things that will not be explained…What was so damn important about saving this jingle truck at April evening in some forgotten corner of the world.

CAMP TILLMAN 2005, near Lwara, Afghanistan - the hills in the background are in Pakistan

Why split up a Ranger platoon – was recovering the truck or the “overwatch” mission in a nearby village critical to the U.S. mission in eastern Afghanistan? Why are the Rangers – the knife’s edge of the U.S. military – assigned these tasks along the Pakistan border?

It points to a flawed occupation strategy in Afghanistan that was relevant in 2004 and continues today. I’ve been on patrol in the area where Tillman died. It’s dusty no-man’s land where we keep border control points to disrupt the flow of tribal Pashtun fighters – ones we label Taliban or al-Qaeda, but they might be neither. We've en manning these remote border sites, because we cannot go into Pakistan and take out the real troublemakers/terrorists using the tribal borderlands as a safe haven - where they can train and plot against us. Isn't that the real reason we launched our troops into war?

Rest in peace Cpl. Tillman – up here we’re still trying to figure things out.


Anonymous said...

The point, which you made in this post, is Tillman was a NFL football player. That is why ESPN is reporting the findings and why generals put their careers on the line to make sure this guy died a hero. He died doing what he wanted to do... fighting like every other Ranger. The tragedy is he was killed by his own unit mates. But, that is a tragedy no matter what and Tillman would agree. He didn't want to be special. Now he is. This is a bad story no matter how you look at it.

Thursday Next said...

His mother was interviewed Monday morning on NPR, and you can listen to that online - it provides a good intro to this transcript link here.