Friendly Fire Killed Soldier Whose Military Motive Was Brother's Disappearance

Monday, July 2nd 2007, 7:53 pm
By: News On 6

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) _ A Vermont National Guard soldier and a Canadian private who were killed in Afghanistan last year were hit by friendly fire, according to an Army report released Monday to The Associated Press.

Sgt. 1st Class John Thomas Stone, 52, was shot once each in the back and head on March 29, 2006, while crouching behind a wall atop a building where he and other U.S. soldiers were repelling a major nighttime attack.

He had 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.

The machine gun rounds that killed Stone were fired from inside a compound operated by U.S. Special Forces soldiers, according to the report, a collection of witness statements assembled by American investigators.

The friendly fire also killed Canadian Forces Pvt. Robert Costall and wounded a number of American and allied soldiers, the report said. It does not indicate whether anyone was disciplined.

The report detailed how Americans and Afghan soldiers at Forward Operating Base Robinson in Afghanistan's Helmand Province were expecting to be attacked in retaliation for a coalition strike on enemy forces.

A group of about 30 Canadian soldiers was brought in that day as reinforcements, and they were positioned behind a berm.

An American sergeant said he saw the errant shots by the Special Forces.

``I immediately realized the S.F. was shooting at the Canadian position,'' said the sergeant's statement. He then urged the soldiers to stop firing, but ``the S.F. Security then turned his weapon 100 to 140 degrees from its original position and began firing in the direction'' of the building where Stone was fighting.

Stone, who was sleeping when the attack began with mortar rounds just before 2 a.m., had gone to the roof of the building where he was staying when the fighting started. Soldiers tending to a wounded Army captain found Stone slumped against the wall, apparently killed instantly.

A witness said Stone's body armor was found under his bed. Stone's comrades were immediately aware that the shots that hit him and wounded the others came from behind them.

Investigators found a string of bullet holes between the gunner's location and the wall that Stone and others were using as cover from enemy fire from outside the base.

The report includes statements from some Special Forces soldiers at the battle, but it was not immediately clear whether they included one from the soldier believed to have fired the M240 machine gun that killed Stone and Costall.

After his death, Stone, a medic, was promoted to master sergeant.

The U.S. Central Command in Florida released the report in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the AP. Other than Stone and Costall, all names were blacked out. It excluded, on grounds of national security, information collected by an unmanned Predator aircraft and certain log entries by the duty officer.

A spokesman for the U.S. Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., said he was unaware of the report and could not immediately answer questions about it or the incident.

The military has briefed Stone's family about the report, said Guard spokesman Capt. Keith Davio.

Military officials took so long because three governments _ U.S., Canadian and Afghan, investigated the firefight. A message left with Stone's companion, Rose Loving, was not immediately returned. A listing for Costall's family in Canada could not be found.