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WASHINGTON (AP) -- An Army maintenance unit that lost 11 soldiers and had several taken prisoner in an ambush in Iraq was sent in the wrong direction by other American soldiers as they sped to catch up to their convoy, a Texas congressman said Friday.
The 507th Maintenance Company was directed to go east at an American checkpoint and had traveled several miles in the outskirts of Nasiriyah when their commander realized they were heading in the wrong direction, said Rep. Silvestre Reyes.
Reyes is a Democrat from El Paso, home to Fort Bliss, where the 507th is based. He was briefed Friday by the Defense Department.
A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., Maj. Mike Escudie, said an investigation of the ambush was under way and the military would have no comment.
The 507th members were doubling back when they were attacked with small weapons fire. Iraqi trucks armed with machine guns also began following them and blocked their retreat with their large trucks, trash and other obstacles, Reyes said.
Reyes said the attack was more of a "rolling ambush" because the 507th vehicles were moving at high speed as they doubled back.
Several members of the company were captured during the March 23 ambush and the bodies of eight others were found when Marines rescued one of the captured, Pfc. Jessica Lynch.
Reyes said the Defense Department does not know whether the American soldiers manning the checkpoint belonged to the Army or Marines. He said that remains under investigation.
"The essence of the investigation will reveal that the soldiers acted courageously and some of them, according to what I heard, will be put in for citations for valor," Reyes said.
Until now, the ambush on the unit has been attributed to the soldiers taking a wrong turn. But Reyes said it actually was a series of actions that put them in danger.
"I don't want anybody to characterize this as taking a wrong turn," Reyes said. "Those of us who have had the experience of combat know are decisions that are made in combat that have a domino effect on units like the 507th."
Things worked against the soldiers nearly from the start, he said.
The company left Camp Virginia in Kuwait in a convoy to support the 3rd Infantry, which was heading north. Their heavier vehicles had trouble keeping up as they traveled through raw desert. Also, they were responsible for stopping to repair vehicles that broke down.
To adjust, the 507th's commander split the company to keep some units with the main convoy and others to attend the broken vehicles. Reyes was not sure of the number of units in the company but said it was about a dozen. The gap grew larger and soon the units that remained behind had spotty communication with the main convoy.
The commander headed toward the American checkpoint for which all units had been given coordinates. When they arrived, about nine hours behind the main convoy, they were waved in an easterly direction to the outskirts of Nasiriyah, Reyes said. The main convoy had gone west.
Reyes said the units traveled 10 to 20 miles around the city when the commander's Global Positioning Satellite system indicated a turn that was not on his route. That's when he decided to double back to the checkpoint. As the ambush happened, the commander was able to speed ahead and flag down Marines down the road who returned to assist the soldiers.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)