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Details emerge on Lynch convoy ambush

From Barbara Starr

An abandoned U.S. Army truck marks the spot where the 507th Maintenance Company was ambushed.
An abandoned U.S. Army truck marks the spot where the 507th Maintenance Company was ambushed.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- New details are emerging of the battle that led to the Iraqi capture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch and her comrades.

Mechanics from the 507th Maintenance Company -- rather than trained front line soldiers -- fought a fierce 90-minute firefight against Iraqi paramilitary and regular forces after getting lost in the Iraqi desert.

They tell of coming under fire from soldiers on rooftops near Nasiriya as their vehicles were hit by rocket-propelled grenades and some weapons were clogged with sand.

"It was Mogadishu," said one military source familiar with the reports from survivors, referring to a 1993 incident in the Somali capital when 18 U.S. Army Rangers were killed by a Somali mob while attempting to rescue comrades from two downed helicopters.

Lynch and 32 other soldiers got lost when their 18 vehicles lost touch with the 3rd Infantry Division's convoy of 8,000 in the drive from Kuwait to Baghdad, missing a crucial left turn south of Nasiriya, Defense Department sources told CNN.

As they realized their mistake and tried to find a safe route back to their comrades they came under intense Iraqi fire.

Master Sgt. Robert Dowdy, the senior enlisted soldier with the group, took charge, urging the young soldiers to stay together, keep moving and fight.

Sources said that at some point the vehicle in which Lynch was riding broke down, and she and others got into a soft-top Humvee.

Lynch's friend, Pfc. Lori Piestewa was driving. Dowdy was in the front passenger seat.

It is believed Lynch was in the middle seat in the rear, between two other soldiers when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Humvee, and Piestewa lost control, violently crashing into the back of another vehicle.

Dowdy was killed instantly and sources now say that Iraqi doctors have told them Piestewa, suffering serious injuries, was taken to the same hospital as Lynch but died shortly after her arrival there.

In debriefing sessions, soldiers involved in the battle said Lynch did not appear to have suffered gunshot or stab wounds, as was initially reported, and that her injuries were sustained in the crash.

Information from those sessions also indicates that at various points in the firefight all the soldiers tried to fight back, but several rifles, including Lynch's, were jammed by sand.

Lori Piestewa at Fort Bliss, Texas, on February 17 -- deployment day.
Lori Piestewa at Fort Bliss, Texas, on February 17 -- deployment day.

During the battle, Iraqi paramilitary forces as well as some regular forces fired weapons from rooftops and buildings and used debris, trash and vehicles to block the road and prevent the 507th from escaping.

One survivor reported that as the shooting ended, the regular forces chased away the paramilitaries, made up of local tribesmen. That soldier said he felt the tribesman might have severely beaten the U.S. soldiers if it were not for the regular Iraqi forces.

One U.S. soldier killed about six Iraqis firing in a mortar pit, sources told CNN.

The 507th normally provided maintenance for Patriot missile batteries, but on March 23 -- the day of the battle -- they had been rendering assistance to other vehicles.

The battle left 11 U.S. soldiers dead and another five, including Lynch, were captured.

Sources also said the coalition is continuing with a war crimes investigation to see if Lynch or the other POWs were abused, and if any U.S. soldiers were killed while trying to surrender.

Although some details remain unclear, it is certain that the tragedy began with the company heading in the wrong direction.

Sources emphasize it is not clear why that wrong turn was made on March 23 and why the unit did not proceed with the rest of the convoy.

In the confusion of battle, such mistakes can occur, one very knowledgeable source emphasized, adding that the unit had already been without sleep for about 60 hours.

They were meant to turn left before reaching Nasiriya and drive around the city but instead the 507th continued driving toward the city and the Iraqi forces.

The convoy then made a series of turns, trying to go back the way it came, but instead of finding a safe route came across the Iraqi troops.

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