I knew Maj Gen Gurganus when he just pinned on full Colonel.
He is a good man.


Sept 30

 

Reuters – Major
General Mark Gurganus (L), commander of RC Southwest, seen with Leon
Panetta in 2012, is one of the two generals to be fired for negligence,
failing to adequately protect a giant base in southern Afghanistan.



 

The commandant of the Marine Corps on Monday took the extraordinary step of firing two generals for not adequately protecting a giant base in southern Afghanistan that Taliban fighters stormed last year, resulting in the deaths of two Marines and the destruction of a half a dozen U.S. fighter jets.


It
is the first time since the Vietnam War that a general, let alone two,
has been sacked for negligence after a successful enemy attack. But the
assault also was unprecedented: Fifteen insurgents entered a NATO
airfield and destroyed almost an entire squadron of Marine AV-8B Harrier
jets, the largest single loss of allied materiel in the almost 12-year
Afghan war.

The
commandant, Gen. James F. Amos, said the two generals did not deploy
enough troops to guard the base and take other measures to prepare for a
ground attack by the Taliban. The two, Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus,
the top Marine commander in southern Afghanistan at the time, and Maj.
Gen. Gregg A. Sturdevant, the senior Marine aviation officer in the
area, “failed to exercise the level of judgment expected of commanders
of their rank,” Amos said.

“It was unrealistic to think that a determined enemy would not be able to penetrate the perimeter fence,” Amos said.

The
incident brings into stark relief the unique challenges of waging war
in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops over the past
two years has forced commanders to triage, sometimes leading them to
thin out defenses. The U.S. military also has been forced to rely on
other nations’ troops, who often are not as well trained or equipped, to
safeguard American personnel and supplies.

The
attack occurred at Camp Bastion, a British-run NATO air base in Helmand
province that adjoins Camp Leatherneck, a vast U.S. facility that
serves as the NATO headquarters for southwestern Afghanistan. Because
Leatherneck does not have a runway, the Marines use Bastion as their
principal air hub in the country. Several hundred Marines live and work
on the British side, and dozens of U.S. helicopters and fixed-wing
aircraft are parked there.

The
British are responsible for guarding Bastion, which is ringed by a
chain-link fence, triple coils of razor wire and watchtowers from which
sentries can scan the horizon for any potential attackers. British
commanders had assigned the task of manning the towers to troops from
Tonga, which has sent 55 soldiers to Afghanistan.

On
the night of the attack, the Tongans left unmanned the nearest
watchtower to the point of the Taliban breach, according to an
investigation by the U.S. Central Command.

Other
aspects of the U.S.-British security plan were “sub-optimal,” the
investigation found, with no single officer in charge of security for
both Bastion and Leatherneck. The security arrangement created
command-and-control relationships “contrary to the war-fighting
principles of simplicity,” Amos wrote in a memo accepting the
investigation.

Troop
reductions also affected security measures. When Gurganus took command
in 2011, about 17,000 U.S. troops were in his area of operations. By the
time of the attack, in September 2012, the American contingent had
dropped to 7,400 because of troop-withdrawal requirements imposed by
President Obama.

In
December 2011, 325 Marines were assigned to patrol the area around
Bastion and Leatherneck. In the month before the attack, that number was
cut to about 110.

Gurganus
did seek permission in the summer of 2012 to add 160 troops to protect
Bastion and Leatherneck, but his superiors in Kabul rejected the request
because the military had reached a limit on forces set by the White
House.

Even
so, Amos said Gurganus should have reallocated troops from elsewhere to
protect the encampments. “The commander still has the inherent
responsibility to provide protection for his forces,” Amos said.
“Regardless of where you are in a [troop] drawdown, you’re required to
balance force projection with force protection.”

Despite
the overall troop reduction, several officers stationed at Leatherneck
at the time said that many Marines with idle time could have been
assigned to guard duty. Instead, some of them took online college
classes and others worked out in the gym twice a day.

In
interviews with The Washington Post this year, Gurganus characterized
the attack as “a lucky break” for the Taliban. “When you’re fighting a
war, the enemy gets a vote,” he said.

When
Amos informed Gurganus that he was being relieved, Amos said Gurganus
told him, “As the most senior commander on the ground, I am
accountable.” Gurganus did not return e-mail messages seeking comment.

Two
Marines, Lt. Col. Christopher Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell, were
killed trying to fend off the attack. Raible, a Harrier squadron
commander, charged into the combat zone armed with only a handgun. Eight
other Marines were wounded in the fighting. The cost of the destroyed
and damaged aircraft has been estimated at $200 million.

Although
Gurganus ordered a review of security on the bases after the attack and
a British general conducted a brief investigation for the NATO
headquarters in Kabul, the Marine Corps waited eight months to ask the
Central Command to initiate a formal U.S. investigation. Amos’s decision
followed inquiries from the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, congressional staff
members and a front-page article in The Post that detailed the unmanned watchtower and the reduction in troops patrolling the perimeter.

Amos said Monday that he wanted to wait for reports from NATO and the Central Command before requesting a formal investigation.

Before
seeking the investigation, Amos had nominated Gurganus to receive a
third star and serve as the Marine Corps staff director, the service’s
third-ranking job. His nomination was placed on hold once the inquiry
began.

Since his return from Afghanistan, Sturdevant has been serving as the director of plans and policy for the U.S. Pacific Command.

Amos
said the decision to fire the generals was the most agonizing choice he
has had to make as Marine commandant. Gurganus and Sturdevant are
friends of his, he said, and their collective time in uniform totals
almost seven decades.

Gurganus
and Sturdevant will be allowed to retire, but Amos said it will be up
to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to determine their final rank. If allowed to
retire as major generals, they would be eligible to receive an
inflation-adjusted annual pension of about $145,000.

The
last two-star general to be fired for combat incompetence was Army Maj.
Gen. James Baldwin, who was relieved of command in 1971 following a
North Vietnamese attack on a U.S. outpost that killed 30 soldiers, said
military historian Thomas E. Ricks.

 

Comments

  1. “It was unrealistic to think that a determined enemy would not be able to penetrate the perimeter fence,” Amos said.
    Freakin’ wire cutters, that’s what they used…disgraceful.
    Bust ’em down a rank or two, don’t care how nice of men they are.

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