A story cropped up today on a March 4 incident where the first-deployed Marine Special Operations Company allegedly shot and killed innocent Afghan civilians in reaction to a roadside bomb ambush.
The story, of course, is not new. What is, however, is the tacit admission by Army officers in Afghanistan that the Marine special operators committed a crimebefore an official investigation has been completed!
I have been covering the formation of MarSoc since 2002, when a memorandum of understanding between the Corps and SOCom planted the seed for the new commando units. I have met some of the Force Reconnaissancemen in the new MarSoc company and can vouch for their professionalism, experience and skill.
Clearly something went wrong on that bumpy road in Nangahar province, but I know from contacts within the unit that there are definitely two sides to this story. And thats what investigations are for, right?
Why, then, did Col. John Nicholson, commander of the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division deployed to Afghanistan, say this in a statement presented to the purported victims families of the March 4 incident:
I stand before you today, deeply, deeply ashamed and terribly sorry that Americans have killed and wounded innocent Afghan people
We are filled with grief and sadness at the death of any Afghan, but the death and wounding of innocent Afghans at the hand of Americans is a stain on our honor and on the memory of the many Americans who have died defending Afghanistan and the Afghan people
This was a terrible, terrible mistake, and my nation grieves with you for your loss and suffering
We humbly and respectfully ask for your forgiveness
Sounds to me like the Army commanders in Afghanistan have already determined the results of the ongoing investigation. In fact, after rolling out that statement to reporters at the Pentagon today, Nicholson demurred when asked to provide more details of the March 4 incident, saying, you guessed it, it is still under investigation.
Nicholson said the U.S. government had made compensatory payments to the families, averaging $2,000 for the 19 dead and 50 wounded.
I understand that winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan might require a little groveling at times. But in this apology there is a tacit, if not explicit, admission of fault and the payments certainly indicate guilt.
The speed of the disclosure of the incident and the expulsion of the Marine spec ops company from Afghanistan very shortly after by Army commanders in Afghanistan seems odd as well. We surely can recall a host of incidents where the Army clammed up about the details of purported mishaps that made it look bad.
No quarter given, it seems, to the Marine Corps fledgling door-kicker unit on its first deployment as a spec ops unit.
I hope the Navy and Marine Corps dont jump to conclusions like the Army commanders seem to have done, and that they instead allow investigators to do their work and determine with clarity whos really at fault here.