An Iraqi ambush in which 11 American soldiers died and six, including Private Jessica Lynch, were captured occurred because of mistakes and malfunctions, a report from the US army has concluded.
The rescue turned Private Lynch into a hero in the United States
The report, published on Thursday, says that the soldiers' trouble began when their fatigued unit commander took a wrong turn on a road near the city of Nasariyah, that led them into an area still under Iraqi control.
However, the situation facing the 507th Maintenance Company troops was made even worse by malfunctioning equipment, including weapons that jammed and vehicles that broke down, the report says.
The report also says that Private Lynch received her injuries when the Humvee jeep she was riding in was hit by gunfire and slammed into a truck - not in a dogged last-stand fire fight with the enemy as some media reports had suggested.
Private Lynch later became a national hero when her rescue by US special forces was captured on camera in one of the most famous incidents of the war.
She is now undergoing rehabilitation treatment in Washington.
The report, which attempts to reconstruct the chaotic events leading up to the ambush on 23 March, does not apportion blame to any one individual, rather concluding that each member of the company performed honourably and "did his or her duty".
The path towards disaster began when instead of taking a route code-named Route Jackson, which would by-pass Nasariyah, the unit's commander, Captain Troy King, took a road which led into the city.
As a result the convoy of 33 soldiers in 18 vehicles were headed into enemy territory and away from the main group of 600 coalition vehicles sweeping north.
"The tragic results of this error placed the soldiers... in a torrent of fire from an adaptive enemy," the report said.
However it was concluded that the error occurred in part because Captain King and his team were acutely fatigued after a movement of nearly 70 hours in which they had had little chance to rest.
A convoy of hundreds of vehicles swept north into Iraq
The situation was exacerbated by the unprecedented speed with which coalition ground troops had pushed into Iraq - which meant that the 507th's support convoy's communications were overextended.
"The element of the 507th... found itself in a desperate situation due to a navigational error caused by the combined effects of the
operational pace, acute fatigue, isolation and the harsh environmental conditions," the report said.
Attempt to escape
When Captain King realised the mistake he decided to turn back and retrace the convoy's route - at which point they came under sporadic small arms fire.
As they tried to escape some of the vehicles broke down or got stuck in the sand and the convoy was split up into smaller groups.
Some of the group's radio batteries went dead and one vehicle even ran out of petrol.
Then to make matters worse, in the ensuing 90 minute fire fight, their only 50-caliber weapon malfunctioned and other weapons jammed.
The possibility that the troops in the convoy, largely made up of cooks and mechanics, had not properly maintained weapons was raised.
"They fought the best they could until there was no longer a means to resist. They defeated ambushes, overcame hastily prepared enemy obstacles, defended one another, provided
life-saving aid and inflicted casualties on the enemy," the 15-page report said.
Of the 33 attacked, only 16 soldiers in eight vehicles managed to get away.
Lynch received numerous injuries when her vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed into one of the other vehicles.
Her four fellow passengers were all killed.
She was not - as had been suggested - stabbed and shot as she tried to resist her captors, the report said.
Significantly the report does not address the Iraqis' treatment of their American captives, nor the accusations, denied by the Pentagon, that defence officials over dramatised Private Lynch's rescue from an Iraqi hospital.