Some former Marines question new Afghan commanders fitness to serve

Washington Free Beacon:
A Marine wrongfully accused of killing civilians says that President Obama’s new Afghanistan war commander is unqualified to lead coalition forces.

In January President Obama tapped Army Lt. Gen. John Nicholson to lead the war in Afghanistan, as the administration confronted the possibility of a long-term troop presence in the country. Nicholson, an Army Ranger, sailed through Senate confirmation on Feb. 4.

The hasty confirmation disappointed retired Marine Major Fred Galvin.

“It is never good for a foot soldier when this guy is in charge,” Galvin told the Washington Free Beacon in a telephone interview from his Kansas home. “I don’t consider him a military leader. He’s a politician.”

In 2007 Galvin was in charge of the Marine Corps’ first special operations unit to be deployed to combat, a development that encountered resistance from within the Corps and the special operations community.

Galvin said he could deal with bureaucratic infighting in the lead up to the unit’s deployment to Afghanistan. What he did not expect was the betrayal that followed a March 4 ambush that year, which left more than a dozen Afghans dead, as reported by Military Times. A suicide attacker set off a car bomb targeting Galvin’s convoy before small arms fire erupted from both sides of the street. The Marines escaped with just one casualty after returning fire.

Within 24 hours the ambush had morphed into an alleged war crime, with villagers claiming that drunken Marines had sprayed gunfire into crowds of unarmed civilians. The military launched two investigations, but ordered Galvin’s unit out of Afghanistan before they were completed. The Marines denied any wrongdoing, saying they engaged only military targets.

A third, related investigation that concluded in April backed up the Marines’ account of the attack. Major Robert V. Urquhart Jr., a senior officer in a unit that answered to Nicholson, submitted a report to senior leadership on April 9, 2007.

“MSOC F received a suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) followed by a complex ambush from both sides of the road,” Urquhart said in the report, which Galvin provided to the Washington Free Beacon. “Vehicles 1 & 2 returned fire to suppress enemy forces and positions.”

Despite the findings of his investigators in April, Nicholson publicly accused the Marines of being a “stain on our honor” in a May video conference given to the Pentagon press corps. He acknowledged that Galvin’s convoy was the victim of a suicide bomb, but said that “in the ensuing fight a number of civilians were killed.” He told reporters that he met with families of the “19 dead and 50 wounded” to issue a public apology, as well as consolation payments to compensate for the losses.

Galvin said that Nicholson’s public statements undermined his right to a fair trial. The investigative reports were then presented to a three-member Court of Inquiry. After more than three weeks, the court cleared Marines of any wrongdoing, concluding that they were returning fire following a hostile ambush. The headlines on the court’s findings paled in comparison to the many stories written about Nicholson’s remarks. Galvin said that he and his Marines found their career prospects stifled after the incident and have had trouble coping in civilian life because of the “false allegations.”

“There was a rush to judgment. Everything was stacked against us. This guy [Nicholson] was the catalyst for taking a 120-man unit out of Afghanistan,” Galvin said. “Nobody would touch us. We were radioactive. He condemns people who were innocent and he never apologized to us.”
This is a travesty that should not be rewarded with a major command.  It also points to how political correctness and rules of engagement are hampering the war effort and undercutting those who put their lives on the line.


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