Three years ago, I was leading Marines in Fallujah. Two years ago, with lawyers that many of you helped pay for, I walked into a courtroom at Camp Lejeune to face off against prosecutors in a fight for my life.
Today, I am back in the fight, and ask for your help in defending a team of true American heroes. Drawn from the elite ranks of "Force Recon," the hand-picked men of Marine Special Operations (MARSOC) are literally the best of the best, and instead of being honored they are being investigated for simply doing their job. Our commandos became the latest victims of rushed judgment and political posturing when they were accused of using "excessive force" to defend themselves during a suicide car-bomb triggered ambush targeting the Americans because some purportedly innocent Afghanis got caught in the cross-fire. But that day on March 4, 2007 in the town of Bati Kot, Afghanistan, our Marines became the victims of more than just suicide bombers, they were caught in the teeth of a thoughtfully engineered media ambush that has ensnared them, and by extension the U.S., in the Taliban's fight to wrest control of Afghanistan from the Karzai government.
The Taliban was banking on world opinion arriving at the simple and "obvious" conclusion that our men were responsible for the tragically inevitable loss of life consequent to commandos responding as they are trained to do when faced with the kind of attack that days later would kill nine troopers from the 82nd. The story, neatly packaged for global media consumption, made the April, 15, 2007 cover of The New York Times with the accusatory headline: "Marines Actions in Afghanistan Called Excessive." Not the first time they've gotten it wrong. The paper has a history of incendiary finger pointing that, put mildly, is at odds with the realities of ground combat. For example, last year they decried Task Force Black's methods as extreme (NYT, 3/19/06:"Task Force 6-26: A Grim Portrait of U.S. Abuse"). Of course, the Times never acknowledged that three months later (as a result of those methods) one of the most notorious terrorists in the world, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, was brought to justice by the very same men of TF Black.
Even if our enemies have become adept at using the all-to-willing American media as a weapon to weaken our national resolve, how can a rational person simply assume that if innocent life was lost, our men did something wrong during that March 4 incident? Illogically high expectations about pinpoint accuracy and target discrimination in a fire-fight are the fantasy of armchair-academics and videogame players. Men on the ground know that war is sloppy and rough. Combat is not a noun or a place that you are "in," but rather a verb, a thing that you "do" to other people. Principally, combat is imposing your will on the enemy by violence of action and the ugly truth is that the process kills all kinds of people: good ones, bad ones, and yes, even our own. When our expectations of success and precision are unrealistic it threatens not only our service men, it emboldens our enemy, and it breaks our will to stand and fight. Suggesting that these highly trained and seasoned Marines acted indiscriminately is preposterous for two key reasons: the first is what we know about the threat that they faced; the second is what we know about the caliber of these Marines.
The threat from suicide attacks and other terroristic activities in Afghanistan has been covered extensively by Alisa Tang's writings for the Associated Press, who has recorded the massive surge in violence there, noting, "The Taliban and other militant groups are committing war crimes by targeting Afghan civilians, killing nearly 700 last year according to a report issued [on April 16, 2007] by Human Rights Watch." Wow. That's not a DoD statistic or some talking-head general, that's the NY-based rights group that also reported that, "of at least 350 bombings, 136 were suicide attacks. Eighty were on military targets but they killed nearly five times more civilians than security personnel." Compare 136 suicide attacks in 2006 with only 21 the year before and only six the year before that. What explains the exponential growth? What explains four suicide bombings last week on May 5, 2007 with only two security personnel killed? There is no military objective being achieved in attriting their own forces and wasting resources, but they are creating pressure on the government with every civilian slaughtered.
Suicide attacks on the Coalition to provoke a reaction is the only "military" tactic the Taliban can rely upon to divide the people from the government and Coalition forces, and sadly, it appears to be working. "Afghans can no longer accept or understand civilian deaths from international military operations," said President Hamid Karzai on May 2, 2007. Okay, but does anyone else see the problem here? The Taliban are using tactics that kill five civilians for every soldier and yet Coalition forces are getting the blame? Clearly, Karzai is feeling the political heat, and our Marines are paying for it. With the understanding that the Taliban are adept at killing civilians to apply pressure, let's re-examine the actions of our MARSOC forces when they fended off the attack on March 4, and which led to this investigation.
It is patently obvious that the Taliban knew that staging a complex attack on our troops from multiple directions in the middle of a town of 60,000 likely would yield civilian casualties, both from the initial attack and from the American response. In other words, civilian casualties were the evil intent of the attackers all along. It seems so elementary, but that conclusion seems to have escaped the Air Force Colonel (deputy to commander of Special Ops in Afghanistan, General Kearney) assigned to do the follow-up investigation, and who by the way has no combat experience. But I suppose it's easy to miss things when you wait four days to "investigate" witnesses and evidence in a town more reminiscent of Fallujah-ville than Mayberry.
Whether it was the Taliban's brutal control (three more suicide bombers in the days after the original attack on our Marines) or just honest to goodness poverty, I wasn't the least bit surprised that any evidence of the March 4 attack had vanished, maybe because I've fought in the squalor of the third world and the no-combat Air Force investigator hadn't. But I was shocked and saddened when General Kearney allowed himself to be duped into reporting that, "We found no brass that we can confirm that small-arms fire came at them." C'mon General, we collect up our brass here in North Carolina, and we're not even starving! More troubling was the general playing patsy to the Afghanis by kicking the MARSOC unit out of country before the so-called "investigation" was even conducted. It may have alleviated some short-term pressure on Karzai and the Coalition presence, but it has opened the door to the Taliban to turn up the heat, because clearly we cannot take the pain.
We all understand the so-called bigger strategic picture, but when is hanging Marines out to dry the way to achieve our ends in the Global War on Terror? It certainly appears that when General Kearney dispatched his no-combat Air Force "fact finder" he had already made his mind up about the facts. "My investigating officer believes those folks were innocent .We were unable to find evidence that those [Afghanis] were fighters." (Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/07). What about the pictures of bullet-scarred Humvees General? Are any of those "innocents" the same ones that were targeted two weeks after those remarks when a U.S. led raid hit three buildings in the same town on April 29, 2007 and captured automatic rifles, rocket propelled grenades, bomb-making materials, vests with loaded ammunition and a weapons cache? It certainly wasn't law-abiding "civilians" that fired upon the Coalition then, and I'm sure the six terrorists who were killed (two being female, one of whom was a teenager) can speak volumes about the extent of Taliban control. So too can the five Taliban that were captured for interrogation by Coalition Forces. The most compelling evidence of the complicity of the population of Bati Kot in the attacks on the Americans (and the subsequent framing of the MARSOC Marines) is the way the locals immediately blocked off the main road (Highway #1), on April 29, 2007 just as they did following a March 4, 2007 attack on a Marine convoy. "We have testimony from Marines that is in conflict with the unanimous testimony from civilians at the sites," said the general. Unanimous? The kind of unanimity that results when an AK-47 is pointed at your child or a head is lopped off to make a point? The kind of Taliban-sponsored "unanimous" that results in "civilian" protests with as many as 500 Afghani males challenging the action of the Coalition, calling for "Death to Bush" and "Death to Karzai"?
On the other hand, what we know about these Marines is simple and honest: I actually do know them, and I am lucky enough to count some of them as my friends.
I will tell you that they are the very best of the warrior profession. They embody an ethos that few understand and that even fewer dare to achieve. The average age of the Marines on patrol was 27 years old (with two combat tours under their belts) and they had spent much of that time in combat or training for combat with the very best commandos of every branch of service and nationality from the SEALs to the British SAS. They had already conducted 39 missions since their arrival in Afghanistan and they were finely tunedm even conducting a vehicle mounted machine gun shoot the day prior to the ambush on March 3, 2007! These were not loose cannons, as they have been made out to be. They are the Corps' most professional - truly the best of the best with leadership averaging four combat deployments and almost seven overseas deployments. One of the Officers in the ambush had volunteered for duty despite having recently recovered from a gunshot wound to his thigh in Fallujah, nearly losing his leg to an amputation. He had to fight the doctors off, and then later he would run the Marine Corps Marathon. Not to mention all the gunners on the convoy were Direct Action Special Reconnaissance Marines hand-picked to deploy as the first Marine Special Operations Company! At the very least, these fine Marines deserve the benefit of the doubt. That so many in the media - and even their beloved Corps - have already deemed them guilty of some crime is a travesty.
Flush with the their media victories in Iraq, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are looking to duplicate their divisive tactics in Afghanistan in an effort to fracture the Coalition and further despirit the American people. But this time they picked the wrong Marines.
I know by now many of you have grown weary of this war and long to tune out the barbarism and the political buffoonery that fills the airwaves, but you must not. Some will wring their hands and say, "Let the system run its course." I can tell you from personal experience that we cannot afford to loose these men or put them through a media circus only to later be exonerated. We cannot wantonly destroy the careers of our most capable war fighters in a fool's gamble to curry favor with foreign governments or mollify factions within our own. I ask you: where do the volunteers to fill our overtaxed ranks come from when they see the way we treat not just our warriors, but our best warriors?
There is more hanging in the balance then simply the fate of these honorable men. You have been generous with your time and your money, and I for one am grateful to the thousands of you that saw fit to stand with me once before, but I am calling on you again. Join my mother, Merry, the founder of DefendTheDefenders.org, and me in working to get the word out about these valorous Marines and help us to raise awareness and money for their legal defense (seven lawyers have been retained so far). Fortunately, the identities of these Marines have not been divulged and we all hope they can go back to the business of keeping us safe and free just as soon as this investigation is over. Remember, this is not about attacking the military, this is about defending it from itself.