5 years ago
In an unusual move, around 200 U.S. Marines were asked to leave their weapons outside the tent where U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was set to speak during his trip to Afghanistan on Wednesday.
Although the military said the order was not given in response to the Sunday’s shooting of 16 Afghan civilians allegedly by an American soldier, it possibly underlined how high tensions were running after the incident.
Major General Mark Gurganus told reporters at Camp Leatherneck that he had given the order because the two dozen Afghan soldiers also there were unarmed and he did not want to treat them differently.
“You’ve got one of the most important people in the world in the room,” he told reporters, dismissing concerns related to the shooting. “This is not a big deal.”
“All I know is I was told to get the weapons out,” Sergeant Major Brandon Hall told The New York Times. Asked why, he replied, “Somebody got itchy, that’s all I’ve got to say. Somebody got itchy; we just adjust.”
Panetta’s visit comes after Sunday’s shooting that left 16 Afghan civilians dead, including nine children. Some of the bodies were reportedly burned. The suspect, who hasn’t been named, is in U.S. custody.
According to the newspaper, the Marines, who were waiting to hear Panetta’s speech, were abruptly told by their commander to get up, leave their weapons, including M16 and M-4 automatic rifles and 9 mm pistols, outside and return unarmed. Hall said he was acting on orders from superiors, the Times reported.
Disarming in this way was noteworthy, according to NBC News’ chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski.
He told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the move was “highly unusual” and that Marines in a combat zone are always supposed to have weapons within their reach.
Without going into too much detail, what the Marines were told to do violates everything about Marine Corps doctrine, from top to bottom, concerning not only self protection but protection and security that Marines provide to other Marines. It runs counter to what they are taught in Boot Camp, School of Infantry, and as a fleet Marine. And to have 200 Marines completely disarmed in a combat zone is worse than just stolid or ignorant. It is immoral.
But as for Panetta, let’s be clear. If his plane were to crash on the way back to the states, requiring us to find a new Secretary of Defense, the world would not come to an end. Time moves on, as does daily events and decisions. This is true of me, readers, and even “one of the most important people (sic) in the world.” But doctrine is for little people. While the Marines were armed Panetta was in one of the safest places on earth – i.e., around 200 armed Marines. With the Marines disarmed, Panetta unwittingly placed himself and his entourage in mortal danger.
The only analogue I can think of is new gun owners. If they cannot bring themselves to become trained and practice and trust in their muzzle and trigger discipline, then perhaps they shouldn’t own guns. If the Secretary of Defense is nervous about being around firearms, perhaps he should have just stayed home and avoided this photo-event. It would have been better for him and the Marines.