Army Investigators Recommended No Charges In Friendly Fire Deaths In Afghanistan

Tuesday, July 3rd 2007, 10:03 pm

By: News On 6

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) _ An Army investigator recommended that no charges be filed against a U.S. Special Forces machine gunner who killed two allied soldiers during a nighttime battle last year in Afghanistan, according to a review of documents by The Associated Press.

The recommendation is in reports released by the Army on Tuesday about the friendly fire deaths of Vermont National Guard 1st Sgt. John Thomas Stone, 52, and Canadian Pvt. Robert Costall, 22.

Their deaths, ``while regrettable, are understandable in the context of this firefight,'' said one document, a report written by an American Army officer whose name was blacked out.

It said an ``inaccurate target identification'' that night by the gunner, who was not identified, caused him to fire at a rooftop position where Stone and other soldiers were crouched behind a wall fighting off an attack by Taliban forces.

The reports concluded that an inadequate base defense plan, fatigue, lack of communication from headquarters and significant supply problems at the base in southern Afghanistan contributed to the shootings.

On Monday, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the AP, the military released the documents.

The Special Forces report said the small Forward Operating Base Robinson, established about a month before a March 28, 2006, attack by Taliban forces, had been under near daily attack. It had acute supply problems and its soldiers were exhausted, the report said.

At one point in February, soon after the base was established, the Americans had to use their own money to buy food for the Afghan soldiers with them, the report said.

Canadian reinforcements arrived by helicopter after dark at the same time an 80-vehicle supply convoy arrived, creating confusion about where the vehicles and soldiers should be placed, the reports said.

Stone was on his third tour in Afghanistan. He joined the Army in 1971 in part to try to learn what happened to his brother, a freelance photographer who disappeared in Cambodia in 1970 with Sean Flynn, the son of the actor Errol Flynn.

Stone's companion, Rose Loving, called the fatal shootings a tragedy and said they were the result of a series of mistakes by military commanders in Afghanistan. A listing for Costall's family in Canada could not be found.

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