First Marine Special Operations Command Company gets pulled out of Afghanistan


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice
Marine unit ordered out of Afghanistan
Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Marines accused of shooting and killing civilians after a suicide bombing in Afghanistan are under U.S. investigation, and their entire unit has been ordered to leave the country, officials said Friday.

Army Maj. Gen. Francis H. Kearney III, head of Special Operations Command Central, ordered the unit of about 120 Marines out of Afghanistan and initiated an investigation into the March 4 incident, said Lt. Col. Lou Leto, spokesman at Kearney's command headquarters in Tampa, Fla.

It is highly unusual for any combat unit, either special operations or conventional, to have its mission cut short.

A spokesman for the Marine unit, Maj. Cliff Gilmore, said it is in the process of leaving Afghanistan, but he declined to provide details on the timing and new location, citing a need for security.

In the March 4 incident in Nangahar province, an explosives-rigged minivan crashed into a convoy of Marines that U.S. officials said also came under fire from gunmen. As many as 10 Afghans were killed and 34 wounded as the convoy made an escape. Injured Afghans said the Americans fired on civilian cars and pedestrians as they sped away.

U.S. military officials said militant gunmen shot at Marines and may have caused some of the civilian casualties.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the incident, which was one among several involving U.S. forces in which civilians were killed and injured.

Leto, the spokesman at Special Operations Command Central headquarters, said the Marines, after being ambushed, responded in a way that created "perceptions (that) have really damaged the relationship between the local population and this unit."

Therefore, he said, "the general felt it was best to move them out of that area."

Gilmore said the Marine company would complete its overseas deployment with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is the larger unit it sailed with from Camp Lejeune, N.C., in January, but it will no longer operate in Afghanistan.

Of the four Marine Special Operations Command companies that have been established since the command was created in February 2006, the one ordered out of Afghanistan was the first to deploy abroad, Gilmore said. By September 2008 there are to be nine companies operating as part of two special operations battalions, he said.

For years the Marines resisted creating special operations units, arguing that would run counter to their philosophy of viewing all Marines as elite fighters and not singling out elements as special. But former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pressed them to establish a separate command - the Marine Special Operations Command - to train and equip forces for the multi-service Special Operations Command.

There are about 25,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, mostly conventional combat forces and support units.


WASHINGTON (AFP) - A Marine Corps special operations unit has been ordered out of
Afghanistan amid an investigation into a March 4 incident in which the US soldiers allegedly fired on civilians, marine spokesmen said.

At least eight civilians were killed and 35 wounded after a US military convoy was ambushed by a suicide bomber in Nangahar province, prompting the US forces to open fire.

The Afghan government charged that the civilians were killed by US gunfire, prompting a US military investigation.

Members of the unit who are still required for questioning in the ongoing investigation will remain in Afghanistan, said Lieutenant Colonel Lew Leto, a marine spokesman, on Friday.

But the rest of their 120-member company is being redeployed out of Afghanistan and will rejoin the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit elsewhere in the region, he said.

He said they were being pulled out because the commander of the marine corps special operations forces decided the unit could no longer be effective in conducting counterinsurgency operations after the March 4 incident.

"That's why they were moved out. Not because of the investigation," Leto said.

The civilian deaths sparked angry protests that drew hundreds of people to the site of the attack, chanting "Death to America" and "Death to (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai."

Photographers and cameramen working for international news organizations had photographs and video of the aftermath of the attack taken and deleted by US forces.

The US military said the images were deleted "to protect the integrity of the investigation."

It said the ambush began when a five-vehicle military convoy came under attack "from several directions" on a busy highway between the eastern city of Jalalabad and the Pakistan border.

The ambush included a car bombing and small arms fire in a crowded marketplace, and US troops opened fire in defense, it said.

When the shooting was over, eight civilians were dead and 35 wounded, a coalition statement said. The US military had earlier said 16 civilians were killed. It did not give a reason for the drop in the death toll.

The Afghan government said 10 Afghans were killed and 25 wounded "as a result of return fire."

"The local population's perception of the response to that ambush damaged the relationship between the local population and the MSOC (marine special operations company), which degraded the MSOC's ability to effectively conduct counter-insurgency operations," said Major Clifford Gilmore, another marine spokesman.

This sucks BIG TIME !
It's what happens when the bad guys hide behind women and children, and of course our guys get the blame.:mad:


Lawyers: Evidence backs MarSOC’s claims

By C. Mark Brinkley and Trista Talton - Staff writers
Posted : Tuesday May 8, 2007 14:29:35 EDT

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Photos of shot-up military vehicles and a classified Army intelligence report confirm that a group of spec-ops Marines was attacked with small-arms fire during a March 4 ambush in Afghanistan, according to the Marines’ attorneys.

Those claims directly contradict public statements made by the top special operations officer in the region, who said the Afghans who were killed at the site of the ambush were innocent, and that there was no evidence that members of the Marine special operations company took small-arms fire from Afghans after the Marines were ambushed by a car bomb.

Marine Corps Times interviewed five of the seven defense attorneys believed to be representing Marines in this case.

“I’ve looked at the photographs of the [Marine] vehicles, and there are bullet holes,” said Mark Waple, an attorney representing the unit’s former company commander, a major who was relieved of duty April 3. “There are multiple impact sites on the vehicle. The photographs confirm what [my client] is telling me.”

Waple said he has studied pictures of at least two different vehicles in the convoy, which was struck by a car bomb that began an incident that set off an international stir after at least 10 Afghan civilians were killed in the fighting.

“We know they took fire because there are holes in the vehicles,” said Charles Gittins, an attorney for a sergeant wounded during the attack. “They were on the run from a complex, planned attack.”

Victor Kelley, an attorney hired by a gunnery sergeant in the company, said he has “solid” information that the platoon took small-arms fire. He declined to discuss details of that information.

“I think, once the entire story comes out, it will be incontrovertible that they took small-arms fire,” Kelley said. “I’m certain of that.”

The lawyers’ comments provide the first glimpse into the incident from the Marines’ perspective. They not only contradict statements made by Army Maj. Gen. Frank Kearney, head of U.S. Special Operations Command-Central Command, but also run counter to a report by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, in which witnesses were interviewed who said the Marines used “excessive force” in responding to the car bomb.

In April, one month after the incident, the company commander and senior enlisted adviser were relieved of their duties and sent home to Camp Lejeune, N.C., along with six other spec-ops Marines involved in the incident. The remainder of the 120-man Marine special operations company — the first unit of its kind to deploy for real-world operations — was expelled from the country by Kearney, and redeployed to an unspecified assignment. The company deployed with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in January and entered Afghanistan in February.

In the April 8 edition of The Washington Post, Kearney said, “We found ... no brass that we can confirm that small-arms fire came at [the Marines]. We have testimony from Marines that is in conflict with unanimous testimony from civilians at the sites.”

Kearney added that his investigating officer “believes those [Afghan civilians] were innocent. ... We were unable to find evidence that those were fighters.” He made no mention of any Army intelligence report from military police arriving on the scene after the ambush.

Kearney’s spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Louis Leto, wrote in an e-mail May 3 that Kearney “has expressed the facts of the investigation” and that the general “has nothing new to add.”

He said the command can’t comment further, citing an ongoing investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which was referred by Kearney.

The attorneys provided a strikingly different story than Kearney’s version of events.

Gittins said his client, a sergeant whose name is being withheld because no charges have been filed in the case, was wounded when a car bomb slammed into the convoy, causing the Marine unit to take defensive action. Gittins said the small-arms fire that followed the bombing forced the convoy to make a run for it.

The path was blocked by other traffic, Gittins said, causing the Marines to “escalate” the situation by “firing warning shots.” He did not comment on whether any of those shots might have killed or wounded bystanders, but said that the moves were “within the rules of engagement.”

Gittins said an intelligence report from the Army’s 66th Military Police Company, members of which allegedly rolled into the firefight area after the Marines had left, observed the “headless, armless, legless torso” of a suicide bomber, as well as evidence of a complex ambush. He declined to provide a copy of that report.

Knox Nunnally, who confirmed he’s been hired by one of the spec-ops Marines but declined to reveal his client’s rank, said he believes evidence will show that an Army unit did go to the site of the ambush sometime after the attack.

“I believe that the evidence in this matter will confirm that there was a firefight,” he said.

And the evidence will show that the Marines were fired at as they left the site of the car bomb attack, he said.

He said the area where the attack occurred — Nangarhar province — is “rapidly developing into a hotbed of al-Qaida activity.” He pointed to the April 29 raid by U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces on a suspected car bomb cell in Nangarhar, near where the Marines’ convoy was attacked. Six people were killed in the raid, sparking a reportedly large protest.

Nunnally said al-Qaida in that raid are “likely from the same group that attacked the Marines March 4.”

One Marine, Gittins’ sergeant, was wounded in the attack.

Gittins provided a copy of his client’s personnel report, which was written and approved by two officers in the Marine’s command March 31.

“While conducting a combat reconnaissance patrol on March 4th, [the sergeant’s] vehicle was struck by a suicide vehicle-borne [improvised explosive device] and subsequently engaged by a direct-fire enemy ambush from multiple directions,” the report said. “After being knocked down by the blast of the SVBIED, [the sergeant] resumed his duties as his vehicle’s gunner and repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire in order to provide suppressive machine gun fire on the [enemy] forces and allow the patrol to break contact with no further casualties.”

A separate report released by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission concluded that the Marines fired on civilians traveling by foot or in vehicles for 10 miles following the ambush. Victims and their families, eyewitnesses and local community leaders, as well as district authorities, local hospitals and clinics and representatives of the Afghan National Police, were interviewed by the commission, but the report does not include the Marines’ accounts of that day.

However, the report does imply that the Marines might have been attacked in the manner Gittins described.

“There is some limited physical evidence available suggesting that a complex ambush really took place at the site of the incident, but this evidence is far from conclusive,” according to the commission’s report.

“I think they fired to warn vehicles to move,” Gittins said. “I don’t think the indiscriminate shooting allegation is true. These guys are all force reconnaissance, most of whom had a tour in Iraq before.”

Phillip Stackhouse, a civilian attorney representing a corporal with the unit, offered a similar accounting. “After they left the engagement area, my client didn’t shoot his weapon,” Stackhouse said.

On April 27, The New York Times reported that “Marine and civilian lawyers involved in the case have been told to expect charges against five to seven Marines involved in the shootings, possibly including one officer,” according to an unnamed Marine official.

“That’s a lie,” Gittins said, adding that the Times’ report was the first he had heard about any pending charges. “And the Marine Corps knows how to reach me.”

Stackhouse and Waple also said they had not been contacted by the Marine Corps about possible charges.

“I haven’t been told anything yet,” Stackhouse said. “Nobody’s contacted us and told us anything was coming anytime soon. I still find comments like that unfortunate when the investigation isn’t completed yet.”

Waple said he’d spoken to Marine officials May 2. “There have been no charges preferred in this matter at all,” he said.

In an interview May 3, Kelley, the attorney for the gunny, said he had not been informed of possible charges against his client.

Officials with the unit’s parent command, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, have remained mostly quiet about the incident, deferring comment on the specifics of the case until the NCIS investigation is complete.

“We do not discuss the details of ongoing investigations because doing so could interfere with the investigative process,” said Maj. Cliff Gilmore, a MarSOC spokesman. “We are absolutely committed to ensuring our Marines are treated justly and to preserving the presumption of their innocence.”

In the meantime, Gittins said he wants his client’s Purple Heart medal for injuries he sustained in the initial bombing to be awarded. “They claim they are holding it until he is cleared of all misconduct, which is bull----,” Gittins said. “He is entitled to it; it’s not like there’s a question about it.”

Gilmore said MarSOC commander Maj. Gen. Dennis Hejlik is the awarding authority for any possible medals in this case and will authorize awards in accordance with the law and Defense Department directives.

“Receipt of a Purple Heart award requires that a service member’s actions following a distinguishing act are honorable,” Gilmore said. “Maj. Gen. Hejlik will not make a final decision regarding possible presentation of personal awards in this situation until the investigation is complete.”