Commentary Magazine


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Accountability in the Marines

For a long time there has been too little accountability for general officers in the armed forces. They are seldom relieved for failure to do a good job even though a similar failure to perform can result in severe penalties for those lower down the chain of command. Those with stars on their shoulders can usually expect a gilded march to retirement unless they commit gross malfeasance, especially if sexual misconduct charges are involved.

That’s why it is refreshing to see the Marine commandant, Gen. Jim Amos, fire two generals for negligence in a 2012 Taliban attack on a marine airfield in Afghanistan which resulted in the destruction of six Harrier jump jets and the deaths of two Marines. As the Washington Post reports:

The two, Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, the top Marine commander in southern Afghanistan at the time, and Maj. Gen. Gregg A. Sturdevant, the senior Marine aviation officer in the area, “failed to exercise the level of judgment expected of commanders of their rank,” Amos said.

“It was unrealistic to think that a determined enemy would not be able to penetrate the perimeter fence,” Amos said.

In their defense, Gurganus and Sturdevant could argue that the attack occurred at a time of a general drawdown in Afghanistan and that their requests for additional marines to safeguard the airbase were denied because commanders were bound by President Obama’s ill-advised “cap” on overall troop numbers. That was true, but Amos judged that it was no excuse for failing to secure such an important base.

It was no easy call for the commandant to make, given that he has known both men for decades. But it was the right call, and it should send a signal of accountability that ordinary soldiers and marines–who often grouse about lack of accountability for higher-ups–will welcome.