Two soldiers killed in Iraq in February may have died as a result of friendly fire, Army officials said Wednesday.
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 be wrong but that an investigation was still under way, he said. It took another month before the families of the two soldiers were told, on March 31, that friendly fire was suspected.
Wednesday’s disclosure comes on the heels of the announcement last week that nine high-ranking Army officers, including four generals, made critical errors in reporting the friendly fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. The military found no criminal wrongdoing in the shooting of the former NFL player.
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.
Confusion on the battlefield
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.”
The Army came under heavy criticism over its handling of Tillman’s death. Though dozens of soldiers knew quickly that he had been killed by his fellow troops, the Army said initially that he was killed by enemy gunfire when he led his team to help another group of ambushed soldiers. It was five weeks before his family was told the truth, a delay the Army has blamed on procedural mistakes.
Army officials are reviewing whether any action should be taken against the officers who provided misleading information as the military investigated Tillman’s killing.
As a result of those problems, the Army instituted a number of changes in its notification process and ordered that unit commanders now must investigate every hostile death, in part to ensure that families receive accurate information about how their loved one died.
McPeek was a member of the 16th Engineer Battalion based in Germany, and Zeimer was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Calls to family members of both soldiers were not immediately returned.