The Marine Corps’ military chief fired two of the service’s two-star generals for failing to secure a base in Afghanistan that was attacked by Taliban insurgents last year, an attack that resulted in two Marine deaths and the destruction of $200 million worth of aircraft.
In the sort of move rare in the current U.S. military, Gen. James Amos fired Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus and Maj. Gen. Gregg A. Sturdevant after a four-month investigation by U.S. Central Command, after 15 Taliban fighters penetrated Camp Bastion in southwestern Afghanistan in an attack last year.
Gen. Gurganus was the top commander in southwestern Afghanistan where the attack took place. Gen. Sturdevant was commander of Marine aviation in the area.
Gen. Amos agreed with the investigation findings that the two generals “did not take adequate force protection measures within the range of responses proportionate to the threat,” and concluded that they “did not exercise the level of judgment expected of general officers,” a Marine Corps statement said.
Lt. Col. Christopher Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell lost their lives repelling the Sept. 14-15, 2012, assault. The attack also wounded eight personnel and destroyed six Marine AV-8B Harrier jets.
The attack occurred at the same time Marines were being drastically drawn down from southern Afghanistan, resulting in fewer Marines patrolling the area.
“While I am mindful of the degree of difficulty the Marines in Afghanistan faced in accomplishing a demanding combat mission with a rapidly declining force, my duty requires me to remain true to the timeless axioms relating to command responsibility and accountability,” Gen. Amos wrote in the investigation’s findings.
While Maj. Gen. Gurganus worked to accomplish a challenging mission in the Helmand and Nimroz provinces, he “made an error in judgment when conducting his risk assessment of the enemy’s capabilities and intentions at the Bastion/Leatherneck/Shorabak complex,” and bears final accountability for the lives and equipment lost under his charge, Gen. Amos said.
In addition, Maj. Gen. Sturdevant did not adequately assess the force protection situation at Bastion Airfield, and did not mitigate vulnerabilities with his own forces, Gen. Amos concluded.
On the night of the attack, according to media reports, a watchtower closest to the Taliban breach was left unmanned by Tongan soldiers assigned to it.
“Marines can never place complete reliance for their own safety in the hands of another force,” Gen. Amos said.
Gen. Amos has recommended to the secretary of the Navy that Maj. Gen. Gurganus’ nomination for promotion to the rank of lieutenant general, currently on hold at the Senate, be rescinded, and that Maj. Gen. Sturdevant receive a secretary of the Navy letter of censure.
Gen. Gurganus issued a statement Monday after the decision, saying “it has been an honor and a privilege to serve beside and lead Marines for over 37 years. I will treasure that forever. I have complete trust and confidence in the leadership of our Corps and fully respect the decision of our Commandant.”
It is rare in the modern U.S. military for top-level officers to be dismissed solely for poor performance in combat.
Generals have been dismissed since the beginning of the republic, but in recent decades it usually has been for corruption, sexual or other personal misconduct, or perceived insubordination.