The unprecedented speed of the Army's drive to Baghdad contributed to mistakes that ended in the deaths of 11 U.S. troops and the capture of six, including Pfc. Jessica Lynch, an Army report says.
The report on the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company in the first days of the war says communications failed when the support unit fell too far behind combat troops advancing toward Baghdad.
"Human error further contributed," says the 15-page draft report.
It paints a picture of troops losing their way, their lumbering tanks, wreckers and other heavy trucks breaking down and getting stuck in desert sands.
As time passed during the 60- to 70-hour ordeal, the troops got little sleep, batteries for some radios ran down and at least one vehicle ran out of gas.
A number of troops reported their weapons malfunctioned. The report suggests the unit of mechanics, cooks and other support personnel had not correctly maintained their guns while on the move in desert conditions.
It was a fundamental strategy of the war commander, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, that the ground force would move as quickly as possible to the capital, bypassing many southern strongholds of then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Many military experts worried before the war that the rush to Baghdad would stretch supply and support lines too thin.
The 15-page report answers some questions but still leaves under investigation parts of an incident that is perhaps the most publicized of the war, though shrouded in secrecy and the subject of numerous conflicting reports. The report does not address the question of whether the Iraqis mistreated or executed any U.S. prisoners, which is the subject of a separate inquiry.
It makes no recommendations for discipline. Instead, it lays out a series of events from the time the unit left Kuwait behind combat forces until the time of the attack and capture March 23 at the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.
"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.
At least one navigational error came from some unexplained misunderstanding by unit commander Capt. Troy King on what route he was supposed to take, a fact that put his troops into the hostile area near Nasiriyah. At another point, as the convoy tried to escape under fire, another turn was missed.
The attack lasted 60 to 90 minutes. 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; they were among the 11 killed.
Lynch sustained numerous injuries, and four comrades riding with her were killed after their Humvee was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed into another vehicle in their convoy at a speed of roughly 45 mph, officials said.
Initial reports incorrectly said that Lynch emptied her rifle fighting off Iraqis before being captured, and that she had been shot and stabbed.
The Portland Oregonian in Wednesday editions quoted relatives of fallen soldiers who said they were frustrated because the Army has told them no one is likely to 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."