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Marine captain faulted in 'friendly fire' incident

Report details failings that led to deaths in Nasiriya

The Marines were attacked by U.S. Air Force A-10s.

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Marine faulted in 'friendly fire' incident
Marine Corps

(CNN) -- A report released Monday by U.S. Central Command recommends disciplinary action against a U.S. Marine Corps captain who called in airstrikes on his fellow Marines in the deadliest "friendly fire" incident of the Iraq war.

Eighteen Marines were killed during a battle March 23, 2003, in Nasiriya. But because some of the bodies had been hit by both U.S. and Iraqi weapons, investigators could confirm only eight deaths by hostile fire.

The source of the fire that killed the other 10 Marines cannot be determined, according to the report.

That uncertainty is unsettling for Tina Cline, whose husband, Cpl. Donald Cline, was killed that day.

"Unknown, unknown, everything's left unknown. You have to come to your own conclusions -- what you want to believe," Cline said.

"This actually has brought me to a new level of grieving, and it's the angry stage," she said.

In addition, 17 Marines were wounded, 13 solely by Iraqi fire, the others by both Iraqi and U.S. fire.

Families of those killed and wounded in the incident were briefed before the report was released.

It's uncertain what will happen to the captain, who has not been identified. He could face discipline for failing to request proper authorization for the strike, which was a violation of a standing order intended to prevent such incidents.

Still, investigators noted in the report that the captain performed "admirably and with bravery" after his mistake on the fourth day of the war.

Some Marines who survived the attack are bitter.

"That was my second time being strafed by an A-10," 1st. Lt. Michael Seeley said on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." "First Gulf War I was strafed. If I can't work with Marine air, I don't want to work with anything."

'The ground just explodes'

The incident happened as U.S. and coalition troops driving toward Baghdad fought to control a key supply route through Nasiriya.

The 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine regiment was ordered to secure two bridges, one over the Euphrates River to the south of the city and the other over Saddam Canal to the north.

As the Marines entered Nasiriya, their "situational awareness became clouded" because of deviations from the maneuver plan, the urban environment and communications problems, according to the report.

Those communication problems meant most of the battalion was unaware that a company had moved north of the northern bridge, where its troops became pinned down, taking intense fire from artillery, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.

A Marine captain at a forward command post called two Air Force A-10s to attack targets north of the canal.

The warplanes, known informally as Warthogs, are armed with 30-millimeter, multibarrel cannons that can spit out 3,900 rounds per minute. The aircraft made several passes over the Marines' vehicles, dropping bombs, firing missiles and strafing with their tank-busting cannons.

"You hear this big, 'Waaah,' and then all you see is the ground just explodes," said Lance Cpl. Edward Castleberry of Mount Vernon, Washington.

Castleberry, the driver of an armored assault vehicle, tried to warn Lance Cpl. David Fribley.

"I'm turning around, screaming at him, telling him to get in," Castleberry said.

Fribley, 26, who enlisted after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, almost made it.

"He was trying to climb in, he's got one arm trying to get in, and he just takes a huge round directly through his chest, and it blew his whole back out," Castleberry said.

Marine Staff Sgt. Troy Schielein of Peoria, Illinois, said the pilots should have recognized the tub-shaped armored assault vehicles, which only the Marine Corps uses.

"There is nothing like an AAV," Schielein said. "I mean, the biggest vehicle that the Iraqis even had was a pickup truck with a machine gun in the back."

Although the pilots of those aircraft were absolved of blame, some in the Marine Corps question why the pilots weren't better trained to spot the friendly vehicles, why flares fired by the Marines did not halt their fire, and why the cockpit videotapes of the incident were apparently recorded over.

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