David Goldman/AP

Can the military police itself?

U.S.-led command in Afghanistan has been rocked by a series of missteps in recent months.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has apologized for grisly new photos showing American soldiers posing with the body parts of Taliban suicide bombers and promised that “anyone found responsible for this inhuman conduct will be held accountable.” If similar recent events are any indication, those punishments will be a long time coming.

The U.S.-led command in Afghanistan has been rocked by a series of missteps in recent months, from the January release of videos showing Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters to the February report that Korans had been burned at a sprawling American base in eastern Afghanistan. To date, however, no officers or enlisted personnel have been disciplined for their roles in the gaffes.

The worst such incident occurred last month when Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales walked off his base in a small town in southern Afghanistan and killed at least 17 civilians. Bales’s attorneys say his actions may have been motivated by an earlier brain injury but don’t dispute his culpability in the crimes. No one from Bales’s unit—including the commander of his small combat outpost in Kandahar—has yet been relieved or otherwise punished, according to Army officials.

Spokesmen for the Marines and Army point out that officers and enlisted personnel could face punishments up to and including courts martial depending on the results of the various probes into the incidents. 

The investigations into the Marine video have been completed, and a senior Marine general in Quantico is currently weighing if any troops should be disciplined, and how harshly. Col. Sean Gibson, a spokesman for the Marines, said there was no timetable for a final determination.

The two services’ refusal to more quickly take action contrasts sharply with the Navy, which has relieved dozens of senior officers of command over the past 16 months for far smaller offenses. Last summer, for example, Navy Capt. Eric Merrill was relieved of command after his ship hit a buoy in the waters off Bahrain. At least 28 Navy officers have lost their posts since January 2011, many while the investigations into their behavior were still under way.

The U.S.-led military command in Kabul has also fired some officers for comparatively minor missteps. Last fall, Army Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller was removed from his post after he criticized Afghan President Hamid Karzai and told Politico that the Karzai administration was “isolated from reality.” 

Fuller lost his post almost immediately, with Gen. John Allen, the top Afghan war commander, slamming him on the way out the door for making “inappropriate public comments.”

Navy Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for the U.S. command in Kabul, said the investigation into the pictures published on Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times was just getting under way and that “it would be premature to get ahead of that process.” The probes into the Kandahar shootings and Koran burnings are also ongoing, military officials said, though the Koran probe should be completed soon.

Speaking via e-mail, Kirby also emphasized said that such gaffes have been carried by only a tiny fraction of the U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan.  Those troops, Kirby said via e-mail, are notable for “the respect they show daily for Islam and for the Afghan people, the courage under the fire they take almost every day, and the humility with which they do it.”

Still, Kirby declined to answer questions about why no soldiers or Marines had yet been disciplined for the Kandahar shootings, Taliban urination videos, or Koran burnings, referring those queries to the individual military services. 

Spokesmen for the Army and Marines said no discplinary measures would be taken until the internal probes had been completed. The Navy, for its part, routinely removes officers from command while such investigations are ongoing; in March, Cmdr. Jon Haydel was relieved for “personal misconduct” even though the probe into his behavior hadn’t been completed.

Army spokesman George Wright referred a question about the status of troops involved in the Koran burning back to NATO, which had specifically refused to talk about it. Wright confirmed that no one besides Bales has to date faced any disciplinary proceedings in connection to the Kandahar shootings. In the Pentagon, many officers believe that Bales’s commanders bear some responsibility for failing to put measures in place which would have prevented him from leaving the base and carrying out his rampage.

Gibson, the Marine spokesman, said there had been a pair of investigations into the Taliban videos, one by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and one within the Marine Corps itself. Gibson said Lt. Gen. Richard Mills was reviewing the results and weighing whether to order further investigation, courts martial, or lesser forms of reprimands. There is also the chance, Gibson said, that Mills will opt for no punishment whatsoever.

Either way, it could be weeks or months longer before an answer comes. “The commanding general is considering his possible courses of actions,” Gibson said, “but no final decision has been made.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.