Friendly fire killed Vt. soldier

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – The Vermont National Guard soldier killed in Afghanistan last year was hit by machine gun rounds fired from inside a compound manned by U.S. Special Forces soldiers, according to an Army report released to The Associated Press on Monday.

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

The friendly fire from behind also killed Canadian Forces Pvt. Robert Costall and wounded a number of American and allied soldiers, said the report, a collection of witness statements assembled by American investigators. One statement indicated that the gunner shot at two allied positions in quick succession early on March 29, 2006.

“When the majority of the firefight took place (at) approximately 02:15, the (Special Forces) security element in the northeast corner began shooting out toward the perimeter, I immediately realized the S.F. was shooting at the Canadian position,” said a statement by a first sergeant referred to as “Witness 1.”

Witness 1 whistled to signal the Special Forces soldiers to stop firing.

“The S.F. Security then turned his weapon 100 to 140 degrees from its original position and began firing in the direction of the American ETT compound,” the witness said, referring to the location where Stone, an embedded tactical trainer, was hit.

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

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.

The report also excluded, on grounds of national security, information collected by an unmanned Predator aircraft and certain log entries by the duty officer. It did not have any statements from the Canadian soldiers present.

Stone, 52, of Tunbridge, was a medic known to fellow soldiers as “Doc.” He joined the Army in 1971 after high school at least 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.

He was in and out of the military over the years before joining the Guard. He was on his third tour in Afghanistan when he was killed.

Several days after Stone’s death the Guard announced that an investigation had begun to determine if he was killed by friendly fire. The report was not completed until April of this year and Stone’s family was briefed in early May.

“The preponderance of evidence in the report indicates that Master Sergeant Stone was the victim of friendly fire,” said Guard spokesman Capt. Keith Davio. “We have met with members of his family and have done everything we possibly could to answer their questions. We hope this provided some measure of closure for them and we ask that their privacy be respected.”

The report includes statements from some Special Forces soldiers at the battle, but, not apparently from the soldier believed to have fired the M240 machine gun that killed Stone and Costall.

The report does not indicate if anyone was disciplined.

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 report detailed how Americans and Afghan soldiers at Forward Operating Base Robinson in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province were expecting to be attacked that night in retaliation for a coalition attack on enemy forces in the area. A group of about 30 Canadian soldiers was brought in that day as reinforcement.

The Canadians were positioned behind a berm at the northeast corner of the compound.

Stone was sleeping when the attack began with mortar rounds just before 2 a.m. Small-arms fire followed. Stone went to the roof of the building where he was staying when the fighting started.

An Army captain was wounded on the roof not far from Stone. Soldiers tending to the captain found Stone slumped against the wall, apparently killed instantly by the bullets that hit him.

Another witness said Stone’s body armor was found underneath his bed.

Stone’s comrades were immediately aware that the shots that hit him and wounded the others came from behind them.

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