WASHINGTON - Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos is recommending to the Secretary of the Navy that two commanding generals be relieved of their duties as a result of the September 2012 insurgent attack on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.
Upon Amos’ request, the commander of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, III, conducted a thorough investigation into the incident and both agreed that Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus and Maj. Gen. Gregg A. Sturdevant did not take the necessary steps to ensure force protection, resulting in the Sept. 14-15, attack.
The attack, which had been planned by insurgents since 2011, took the lives of Lt. Col. Christopher Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell. It also resulted in the injury of eight others and the destruction of six AV-8B Harrier jets, costing roughly $24 million each.
Gurganus, the commanding general of Regional Command Southwest and I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), and Sturdevant, the commanding general of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, were both operating in a coalition environment, with the Bastion Airfield under the command of British forces. The command and control structure was later considered sub-optimal by Austin, and this greatly inhibited Gurganus’ ability to create a unified and integrated defense for the Bastion-Leather-Shorabak Complex.
In addition, Regional Command Southwest had experienced significant drawdowns under Gurganus’ command. Their numbers were reduced from 17,000 to 7,400 over a period of six months. Gurganus’ request for additional forces were turned down. Yet Gurganus’ area of responsibility spanned roughly 36,000 square miles and included 196 combat outposts and forward operating bases within 19 districts.
However, Amos noted that the drawdown of forces was no excuse for the lack of security for the base as well as the underestimation of outside enemy forces.
“Whether it be 17,000 or 7,400, the commander still has the inherent responsibility to provide force protection for his or her forces,” Amos said. “It’s in our doctrine; it’s in our Marine Corps Warfighting publication … So, regardless of where you are in a drawdown, you’re required to balance protection versus force projection.”
Amos noted that Gurganus and Sturdevant neglected to fully prepare for the various types of threats they might face in Helmand and Nimroz province.
“The clear focus of the effort and their intelligence drove them to believe the threat was internal,” Amos said. “They focused their efforts primarily on those areas, not so much on the area of the intrusion from the outside in.”
But on Sept. 14, the 15 insurgents who attacked the airfield came from outside the perimeter — a perimeter the U.S. CENTCOM investigation later showed painfully vulnerable to outside attack.
In his remarks, Amos noted that he does not expect his commanders to always make perfect decisions, especially when in a combat zone. However, Amos pointed out that the attack on Camp Bastion was an example of a complete lack of judgment on the part of both generals.
Amos wrote in the memorandum for the investigation, “The fog of war, the uncertain risks of combat, and the actions of a determined foe do not relieve a commander of the responsibility for decisions that a reasonable, prudent commander of the same grade and experience would have made under similar circumstances.”
Although Gurganus and Sturdevant have both had long and successful careers in the Corps, Amos has asked both to retire. Additionally, the lieutenant general promotion for Gurganus, currently awaiting senate approval, will be rescinded.
“This is the hardest decision I’ve had to make as commandant of the Marine Corps,” Amos said. “I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me, but Mark Gurganus and Greg Sturdevant were close personal friends of mine. I served with them for decades. They’re extraordinary Marine officers who have served their country with distinction and honor for many years. But commandership is a sacred responsibility and the standard for general officers is necessarily high. In their duty to protect our forces these two generals did not meet that standard.”