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Pentagon calls BBC's Lynch allegations 'ridiculous'

Report said commando raid was unnecessarily theatric

From Jamie McIntyre
CNN Washington Bureau

Pfc. Jessica Lynch was rescued April 1 from an Iraqi hospital.
Pfc. Jessica Lynch was rescued April 1 from an Iraqi hospital.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Any charge that the U.S. military misrepresented the facts of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch's rescue April 1 from an Iraqi hospital to make the mission appear more dramatic or heroic is "void of all facts and absolutely ridiculous" the Pentagon said Monday.

Responding to a BBC report that called the Pentagon accounts of the rescue "one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said, "I think that allegation is ridiculous, I don't know how else to respond. The idea that we would put a number of forces in danger unnecessarily to recover one of our POWs is just ridiculous."

The then-19-year-old Lynch and five fellow members of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company were taken prisoner March 23 outside Nasiriya, Iraq. (Story of other survivors)

A week later, acting on intelligence information, U.S. Special Forces led a team of Marines, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs and airmen into the hospital to rescue Lynch.

The BBC report quoted witnesses and hospital officials as stating the United States knew that there were no Iraqi forces at the hospital when it conducted the commando raid, and that the United States special operations forces had used Hollywood theatrics, including blank ammunition, to make a show of rescuing private Lynch.

The Pentagon said no blanks were used, and all procedures employed were consistent with the "tactics, techniques and procedures" normally employed by U.S. forces when there is a perceived threat of encountering hostile forces.

"We don't want to take unnecessary risk. We do make sure that when we exercise military force we use the right resources, sufficient to get the job done. It is a decision made by the commander on the ground," Whitman told CNN.

"We were able to snatch her and without any loss of life."

Pentagon: Military never said rescuers took fire

The Pentagon spokesman also said the United States military never claimed the rescue force came under fire when it burst into the hospital, but it did say U.S. troops supporting the mission exchanged fire nearby.

"There was not a firefight inside of the building, I will tell you, but there were firefights outside of the building, getting in and getting out," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, deputy director of operations, said at an briefing in Doha, Qatar, on April 2.

John Kampfner, the veteran BBC correspondent behind the documentary, said his reporting was based on interviews he conducted in Nasiriya after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Kampfner also told CNN that he requested the Pentagon's raw footage of the rescue operation in an effort to verify the U.S. account. He said the Pentagon declined his request.

The BBC report also questioned the various accounts of Lynch's injuries.

At the April 2 briefing, the military did not release the nature of Lynch's injuries or say how she obtained them.

Whitman said speculative reports in the news media, not Pentagon pronouncements, were responsible for some of the misinformation surrounding Lynch's story, including a Washington Post account that she had expended all of her ammunition before being captured.

"Certain facts about what happened to other soldiers got confused with what may have happened to Jessica," Whitman said.

'She never told us' what happened

The Pentagon never released an account of what happened to Lynch because it didn't have an account, Whitman said. "She never told us."

Lynch suffered a head laceration and spinal injury, and both her legs and her right arm and foot were broken during her ordeal in Iraq. According to authorities, she cannot recall details from the time she was ambushed in Iraq to a point during her captivity there.

Although Whitman acknowledged that in retrospect it might have been possible for the U.S. military to drive up to the hospital and take Lynch, he noted that that was not known at the time.

"If we had good knowledge we could drive in and take her out, we certainly would have done that rather than a joint operation. We don't look to do them in a more difficult, complex way," he said.

"It's not up to me to second guess, but I can't imagine we would have done anything differently."

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