WASHINGTON — Two senior Marine Corps generals have been ordered to take early retirement after being found responsible for errors in judgment and failure to provide adequate security at a base in southwestern Afghanistan that was the scene of a deadly — and humiliating — insurgent attack last year that killed two Marines and destroyed six Harrier attack jets.
General James F. Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, announced the disciplinary action Monday. He said the punishments were unprecedented in modern Marine history and were an effort “to remain true to the timeless axioms relating to command responsibility and accountability.”
Major General Charles M. Gurganus, formerly NATO’s regional commander in southwestern Afghanistan, was faulted for failing to properly assess risks posed by the insurgency operating outside the massive military base in Helmand province that included camps Bastion, Leatherneck, and Shorabak.
Gurganus had been nominated for his third star and a senior leadership role at the Marine Corps headquarters at the Pentagon but will retire instead.
Major General Gregg A. Sturdevant, the former commander of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing forces assigned to Afghanistan, was faulted for not having established an integrated system of security at Bastion airfield and will also take early retirement.
The attack occurred on Sept. 14, 2012, when members of the Taliban entered the base by clipping a fence with wire cutters. They split into three groups that engaged coalition forces in an hours-long firefight. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Raible and Sergeant Bradley Atwell were killed and eight others were wounded. All but one of the 15 attackers was killed.
Raible had raised concerns about security on the eastern side of Bastion, where the attack occurred, but it is not clear whether those concerns ever reached Gurganus or Sturdevant.
During the battle, insurgents also used grenades to blow up six jet fighters, valued at about $200 million, and severely damaged two others.
Amos acknowledged that the insurgent attack came after the troop presence in southwest Afghanistan had been reduced to 7,000 from 17,000 six months earlier. And he noted that a request by Gurganus for more personnel to bolster his defenses had been turned down by his superiors.
Even so, Amos ruled that commanders were responsible for balancing the requirements for defending the base with the demands for continued combat operations.
Amos, in his review, wrote that every commander is “forced to balance the ever-present and continuing mission of force-projection against force-protection requirements.”
Although Gurganus had asked for more forces and was often turned down, “in the end, I believe he could and should have done more,” Amos said.
The provinces of Helmand and Nimroz, which make up the southwestern military district in Afghanistan, were a focus of Taliban efforts to seize territory and undermine the credibility of the central government in Kabul and its supporters across the NATO military alliance.
The inquiry found that the commanders viewed the greatest risks to the compound were car bombs, mortars or rockets, and insider attacks by Afghan security forces who turn on coalition troops.