WASHINGTON — The commandant of the Marine Corps on Monday took the extraordinary step of firing two generals for not adequately protecting a giant base in southern Afghanistan that Taliban fighters stormed last year, resulting in the deaths of two Marines and the destruction of a half a dozen U.S. fighter jets.
It is the first time since the Vietnam War that a general, let alone two, has been sacked for negligence after a successful enemy attack. But the assault also was unprecedented: Fifteen insurgents entered a NATO airfield and destroyed almost an entire squadron of Marine AV-8B Harrier jets, the largest single loss of allied materiel in the almost 12-year Afghan war.
The commandant, Gen. James Amos, said the two generals did not deploy enough troops to guard the base and take other measures to prepare for a ground attack by the Taliban on Sept. 14, 2012. The two, Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, the top Marine commander in southern Afghanistan at the time, and Maj. Gen. Gregg 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.
The raid was on Camp Bastion, a British-run air base that adjoins Camp Leatherneck, a U.S. facility. The Marines use both facilities. Fourteen of the 15 attackers were killed; one was captured.
The incident points to the challenges of waging war in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops over the past two years has forced commanders to triage, sometimes leading them to thin out defenses. The U.S. military also has been forced to rely on other nations' troops, who often are not as well trained or equipped, to safeguard American personnel and supplies.
On the night of the attack, soldiers from Tonga had been assigned by the British to staff the watchtowers at the base. But they left uncovered the nearest watchtower to the point of the Taliban breach, according to an investigation by U.S. Central Command.
Amos said the decision to force the generals to retire was the most agonizing choice he has had to make as commandant. Gurganus and Sturdevant are friends, he said, and their time in uniform totals almost seven decades.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.