Friday, March 16, 2012

US Marines disarmed for SecDef visit to Helmand

By BILL ROGGIOMarch 14, 2012 12:41 PM
Secy of Defense Leon Panetta at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan

The New York Times reports that US Marines at Camp Leatherneck who were waiting in a tent for US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to speak were ordered to disarm:
In a sign of the nervousness surrounding Mr. Panetta's trip, the Marines and other troops who were waiting in a tent for the defense secretary to speak were abruptly asked by their commander to get up, place their weapons -- M-16 and M-4 automatic rifles and 9-mm pistols -- outside the tent and then return unarmed. The commander, Sgt. Maj. Brandon Hall, told reporters he was acting on orders from superiors."All I know is, I was told to get the weapons out," he said. Asked why, he replied, "Somebody got itchy, that's all I've got to say. Somebody got itchy; we just adjust."
Normally, American forces in Afghanistan keep their weapons with them when the defense secretary visits and speaks to them. The Afghans in the tent waiting for Mr. Panetta were not armed to begin with, as is typical.

Later, American officials said that the top commander in Helmand, Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus, had decided on Tuesday that no one would be armed while Mr. Panetta spoke to them, but the word did not reach those in charge in the tent until shortly before Mr. Panetta was due to arrive.
General Gurganus told reporters later that he wanted a consistent policy for everyone in the tent. "You've got one of the most important people in the world in the room," he said. He insisted that his decision had nothing to do with the shooting on Sunday. "This is not a big deal," he said.

Whatever the reason was for this decision, it was wrong. If Major General Gurganus was concerned about offending Afghan sensibilities, then he failed to consider how this would be perceived by his own Marines (and that would be poorly, I can assure you). If indeed someone was "itchy," as Sergeant Major Hall initially said, about US troops being armed in the presence of their own Secretary of Defense, then Gurganus just told his Marines they cannot be trusted.

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