Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.


leave a comment »

The Marine Corps has worked to become a learning organization, and on the whole the effort has been successful. Professional journals of the Marine Corps commonly run detailed critiques of actions commanded by officers still serving, and often these are penned by junior offices. When Thomas Ricks, in his excellent book Making the Corps (highly recommended), described this to an Army office, he wrote that the officer’s face turned white as a sheet and he commented that, in the Army, that would be a career-ending move.

The different mission of the Marine Corps—essentially, to gain and secure a beachhead—affects a lot of what they do. For example, the Marine Corps has a light footprint and carries with it what they need. Marksmanship—making every bullet count—is important, since ammunition must be conserved, whereas the Army tends more to “spray and pray.”

At any rate, I was struck by this story in yesterday’s NY Times: “Two Marine Corps Generals Are Forced to Retire Over Fatal Security Breach”. The Army doesn’t do that sort of thing, generally speaking. While some enlisted personnel may be punished (cf. Abu Ghraib: no officer held responsible, because the Army does not believe that an officer is responsible for the conduct of the troops under his (or her) command. The Marine Corps takes a different view, obviously. And note that one of the generals fired is (perhaps “was” now) a close friend of the Commandant who fired him.

David Ignatius in today’s Washington Post has a good comment:

For a case study in accountability (and the lack of it), contrast the Marine Corps’ decision this week to fire two generals for inadequately protecting a base in Helmand Province with the CIA’s lack of any similar disciplinary measures after a comparable disaster in December 2009 when a suicide bomber invaded a base in Khost, Afghanistan.

There was an almost brutal decisiveness in the decision by Gen. James Amos, the Marine commandant. He fired two major generals who were commanding Marine troops and aviators in southern Afghanistan when the Taliban overran a NATO airfield on Sept. 14, 2012, and destroyed a half-dozen U.S. fighter jets.

The Marine Corps is a disciplined organization because it holds officers responsible for actions under their command. There were many extenuating circumstances in the generals’ defense: British troops had overall responsibility for guarding the base, and one of the cashiered generals had requested more troops to protect it a few months before. But Amos rightly decided that these factors were less important than the integrity of his service.

Now compare the CIA’s actions after the tragic suicide bombing at the agency’s base in Khost by Jordanian double agent Humam al-Balawi that killed seven CIA officers, the agency’s worst loss in several decades. The Jordanian, who had secretly been recruited by al-Qaeda, was allowed to enter the secure compound partly because it was judged too dangerous for agency officers to go outside to meet him. The Dec. 30, 2009, meeting was supervised by Jennifer Matthews, the chief of the Khost base, who won that job because of her outstanding work as a targeter, but who had little experience running operations in the field. She died in the attack.

The CIA conducted an extensive review of the Khost disaster. According to Joby Warrick in his authoritative history of the case, the review concluded that Matthews, supported by superiors in Kabul and at CIA headquarters, “failed to follow standard safety procedures in their meeting with Balawi. . . . Warnings that might have alerted the CIA to Balawi’s deception were never passed along.”

Yet no individuals were held responsible. The agency did change some security and training procedures, but “no single person or failure caused the disaster at Khost, the investigators found,” according to Warrick.

The CIA has been so battered and bruised by criticism over the years that there’s a perhaps understandable tendency to circle the wagons when crisis hits. That’s certainly what CIA Director Leon Panetta did at the time. After commentators (including me) had criticized the procedures that allowed the Khost attack, Panetta wrote a Jan. 10, 2010, op-ed piece for the Post saying it was wrong to criticize “poor tradecraft” for what had happened. Panetta wrote: “That’s like saying Marines who die in a firefight brought it upon themselves because they have poor war-fighting skills.”

Actually, no. The Marine Corps insists on assigning responsibility when a base is attacked — but to the senior officers in the chain of command.

A final, obvious point: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2013 at 8:51 am

Posted in Military

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.