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Truth spoils a good war story

July 11 2003

The heroic tale of Jessica Lynch, the teenage United States Army soldier rescued from Iraqi captivity in a televised commando raid, has been largely debunked by a military investigation.

The 15-page report dismissed lurid media accounts - passed to US reporters by military officials - that Private Lynch fought back fiercely as her supply convoy was ambushed in the central Iraqi town of Nasiriyah on March 23. It had been claimed that she fired until her ammunition ran out before being overpowered, shot and stabbed by her captors.

Instead Private Lynch suffered "horrific injuries" when the Humvee in which she was riding was struck by enemy fire, and crashed into a broken-down lorry at 70kmh.

She survived "principally because of the medical attention she received from the Iraqis", a Pentagon source told The Washington Times.

Early reports also referred to her supply convoy being ambushed by Iraqi forces. But the report describes how a series of blunders by a commanding officer led the lumbering, 13-vehicle convoy directly into Nasiriyah, a well-defended Iraqi town that would not fall to the Americans for another week.

The newly promoted Captain Troy Kent King misread his orders and took a series of wrong turns into the town, past waving Iraqis at military checkpoints.

As the convoy attempted two successive U-turns, army vehicles broke down, ran out of petrol, got stuck, and collided with each other, while Iraqi fire poured in. Many of the Americans' weapons jammed, possibly due to poor maintenance.

Of the 33 soldiers who entered Nasiriyah, 11 were killed and seven captured, and one died in captivity, the report said. It did not touch on allegations of summary executions or mistreatment, which are being investigated separately.

The army report assigns no blame to Captain King, saying he committed a "navigational error caused by the combined effects of the operational pace, acute fatigue, isolation and harsh environmental conditions".

Private Lynch remains in a US military hospital just outside Washington, and reportedly remembers nothing of her ordeal.

Private Lynch's daring rescue by US special forces - filmed by the military and released in time for prime-time television news programs back home - sealed her status as the pre-eminent good news story of the conflict. Several fictionalised TV movies of her story are in the works.

The Telegraph, London


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