The YouTube-posted video of Marines urinating on slain Taliban fighters was a factor in the insider attack that killed four French troops and rattled the unity of coalition forces in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen said Monday.
“It truly threatened the national will of elements within the coalition,” Allen said at the Brookings Institute in his first comments in a public forum since stepping down last month as commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.
Four French troops were shot to death by an Afghan solider in an insider attack on Jan. 20, 2012, about six months after the video emerged on YouTube showing Marines in southwestern Helmand province urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters.
Allen said the Afghan soldier “had not seen but had heard [descriptions] of the video, and had pulled the trigger based on it.” The deaths of the French troops figured in the decision of French President Francois Hollande to withdraw all French combat forces at the end of 2012.
The video showed four Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., urinating on the bodies of three dead men. Five Marines have pleaded guilty in the case and received light sentences. Two others have been charged.
Soon after the insider attack, Allen read a French newspaper that detailed the differences between the Afghan and NATO forces as “cultural and irreconcilable.”
Allen said he rejected the notion of a cultural divide and decided to deal with the insider attacks as an “enemy threat rather than a cultural issue.” Tighter security by U.S. and coalition partners and more detailed vetting of the Afghan forces have diminished the insider attack threat, Allen said.
“Knock on wood, the numbers are down,” he said.
Last year, the International Security Assistance Force recorded 46 separate insider attacks that killed a total of 62 coalition troops, compared to 21 attacks in 2011 that killed 35. This year, two U.S. soldiers and a contractor have been killed in insider attacks.
Allen, who was replaced in February by Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford as commander of U.S. and allied forces, was nominated to take over the European Command but announced in February that he would be retiring.
His nomination was held up last year in the investigation of his voluminous e-mail correspondence with Jill Kelley, the Tampa socialite whose complaint to the FBI led to the discovery that retired Army Gen. David Petraeus was having an extra-marital affair. Petraeus quickly resigned as CIA Director.
Allen was cleared of wrongdoing by the Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General. He cited his wife’s illness in choosing to retire.
On other issues, Allen said “there is a very clear consideration” by the allies to keep the funding of the Afghan government at levels that would allow them to retain a security force of 352,000, rather than the 230,000 that had been expected when coalition combat troops withdraw at the end 2014.
Allen also urged the allies not to be discouraged by the mercurial statements of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who earlier this month charged that the Americans were colluding with the Taliban to undermine his government.
“The Afghan people are deeply, deeply appreciative of the sacrifices made” by the allies, Allen said. “On the whole, the relationship is strong, the relationship is resilient.”
As for Americans colluding with the Taliban, Allen said that “I’m here to tell you I would know, and we ain’t.”