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Army Says It Will Review More Combat Deaths

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Army Says It Will Review More Combat Deaths

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Army Says It Will Review More Combat Deaths

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The Army is reviewing the way it notifies families that a relative has been killed in Iraq or in Afghanistan. This follow complaints from families who say they haven't always been told the whole story and in some cases have been given a version of events that turned out to be utterly false.

NPR's John Hendren reports.

JOHN HENDREN: Nearly 2,700 times since 2001, an Army soldier has died in Iraq or Afghanistan. When that happens, Army spokesman Colonel Dan Baggio says, the military's job is simple.

DAN BAGGIO: You've got to tell the family. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to sort out. You've got to notify the family as quick as you can, and you've got to give them the circumstances as best you can.

HENDREN: But in a number of documented cases, the Army's initial story has turned out all wrong. The best known case involves Pat Tillman, who gave up a lucrative football career in 2002 to fight in Afghanistan with the elite Army Rangers. The Army initially said he was killed while leading troops in battle. They gave him the Silver Star for gallantry under enemy fire.

Months later, Army officials acknowledged what they suspected within hours of his death, that he was killed by the so-called friendly fire of his fellow rangers. Regulations require the Army to inform the families if they suspect friendly fire, but as Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, recalls, that did not happen.

MARY TILLMAN: The Army did it in absolute reverse order. They told us that, you know, they didn't want to give us a bogus story so they didn't tell us right away that it was fratricide, even though they suspected it.

HENDREN: The Army's Baggio says Tillman's case is unusual.

BAGGIO: The Pat Tillman case is one that was widely publicized, and I think something like that - there was misinformation, some sort of a cover-up or whatever - things like that are an anomaly. Sometimes it's a more complicated event that does require an investigation. The initial report is not always the right report.

HENDREN: Two months after Tillman's death in April 2004, It happened again. The parents of California National Guardsman Lieutenant Andre Tyson and Specialist Patrick McCaffrey were told their sons were killed in an ambush.

It took two years for Army officials to inform that in fact, the men were killed by the Iraqi civil defense soldiers they were training. The Army has acknowledged mistakes, but Mary Tillman says it looks a lot like damage control.

TILLMAN: It's becoming very clear with some of these cases that the military is deliberately lying, and the public needs to know the truth. If there's this many cases of friendly fire, if we're just sending our soldiers over there to kill each other, maybe they're not trained well enough.

I don't know, but something has gone terribly wrong.

HENDREN: Andrew Bacevich says he suspects in most cases families are misinformed due to honest mistakes. The former tank commander, who now teaches at Boston University, says what has changed since World War II and Vietnam is families' expectations.

ANDREW BACEVICH: But I think that when it comes to warfare, that expectation really collides with the continued messiness and confusion which remains very much part of war's nature.

HENDREN: Army officials say they're about halfway done with their review of war casualties.

John Hendren, NPR News, Washington.

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