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Navy: No Proof to Marines' Ambush Story
Associated Press  |  January 15, 2008
CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina - Authorities found no evidence that a Marine unit was responding to an ambush last year when troops allegedly opened fire indiscriminately on Afghan civilians, killing as many as 19, a Navy investigator testified Jan. 14.

But, Navy authorities did not arrive on the scene until two months later and had only an hour to look at the site of the shooting, Marine Chief Warrant Officer Robert O'Dwyer cautioned.

"From a law enforcement standpoint, that's ludicrous," O'Dwyer said. He said that while one investigation later determined two civilians died and 23 were wounded, another concluded 19 died and 50 were wounded.

O'Dwyer's testimony opened the second week of a Court of Inquiry, a rarely used administrative fact-finding proceeding investigating the actions of two officers involved in the shootings: Company commander Maj. Fred C. Galvin, 38, of the Kansas City area, and Capt. Vincent J. Noble, 29, of Philadelphia, a platoon leader.

The court will recommend whether any charges should filed against the officers, and whether any training should be changed.

O'Dwyer said Navy Criminal Investigative Service agents interviewed Afghan police and civilians, and members of an Army military police unit that arrived on the scene less than an hour after the shooting. He said none confirmed the Marine unit's story that there was a coordinated ambush.

Lawyers for the officers have said the unit of about 30 Marines was ambushed just after a suicide bomber detonated an explosive-packed minivan near the second Humvee in their six-vehicle convoy. During the first week of testimony, nearly a dozen Marines told the court they heard small arms fire after the explosion and that the convoy's gunners did not fire until they were fired on.

Citing witness accounts, Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission concluded last year that the Marines fired indiscriminately at pedestrians and people in cars, buses and taxis in six different locations along a 10-mile (16-kilometer) stretch of roadway.

A Marine riding in the convoy testified last week that the convoy was shot at twice and Marines fired back over a span of roadway about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) long. Navy investigators said the firing occurred over about six miles (10 kilometers), O'Dwyer said.

The unit was on its first deployment following the 2006 creation of the Marine Special Operations Command. After the shooting, eight Marines were sent back to Camp Lejeune, and the rest of the company was taken out of Afghanistan.

Maj. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, the commander of the Marine Special Operations Command, later said he disagreed with that decision and that the unit responded appropriately. Marine Corps commandant Gen. James T. Conway also criticized an apology issued by an Army brigade commander, calling it premature because an investigation remained under way.

The Marine Corps last used the administrative Court of Inquiry process in 1956, to investigate allegations a drill sergeant marched a group of recruits into a South Carolina creek, where six died.

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