Marines told to disarm before Panetta speech
Troops stacking their weapons at Camp Leatherneck.
March 14th, 2012
11:17 AM ET

Marines told to disarm before Panetta speech

By Chris Lawrence, with reporting from pool producer Larry Shaughnessy

U.S. Marines waiting for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to speak at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan Wednesday were ordered to leave the room and place their weapons outside.

The request, relayed by Sgt. Maj. Brandon Hall, was unusual because it's not customary to disarm for a defense secretary visit, but the Marines did as they were told. About two dozen unarmed Afghan soldiers also were in attendance.

Panetta arrived in Afghanistan Wednesday for a two-day visit amid heightened tensions after an American soldier allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians in their homes Sunday.

The order to disarm came from Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus, who commands troops in Helmand province.

Asked about the move, Hall told the New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller: "Somebody got itchy, that's all I've got to say. Somebody got itchy; we just adjust."

Gurganus later told reporters the decision had nothing to do with the weekend shooting, and said it was because the Afghan soldiers in attendance were unarmed and he did not want them treated differently than the Marines.

"This is not a big deal," Gurganus said. But he then added that "you've got one of the most important people in the world in the room," referring to Panetta.  When it was pointed out that this had not been the custom, Gurganus - who is new to the post - replied, "There's a new sheriff in town."

A senior defense official told CNN that Gurganus made the decision to have all coalition troops disarm on Tuesday, but "the order never got passed down the line to the individual units. So, unfortunately, it wasn't until all the Marines were sitting down Wednesday that anyone realized what the general really wanted. It looked bad. But at that point they needed to comply with the order."

Several Marines said they had never seen a situation like this, although they do not believe the decision resulted from any security concerns. The senior defense official said Gurganus was under orders to make partnership a priority, and he felt that "it wouldn't be right to have armed Marines sitting next to unarmed Afghan soldiers. He wants to promote the mission of partnership."

Security procedures involving the handling of weapons vary according to protocols issued by International Security Assistance Force command, as well as the discretion of individual regional and base commanders.

At some bases, troops entering mess halls are required to remove the clip from their weapon and clear any rounds from the chamber. The senior defense official also said security has been increased in varying degrees in the past month or so, following the Quran burning.  For example, in Kabul, as recently as seven days ago troops were required to carry their weapons everywhere, with the ammunition clip loaded but no round chambered, the official said.

The order for the Marines to disarm at Camp Leatherneck was not connected to a separate incident that took place Wednesday at an adjoining British military base in Afghanistan, the defense official said.

In that incident, an Afghan national stole a vehicle and drove it through at least one layer of perimeter security onto the runway at Camp Bastion around the same time Panetta was arriving there from a previous visit to Kyrgystan, a defense official said. A British soldier  was injured by the vehicle before it was driven into a ditch, a defense official said.  The driver ran out of the vehicle on fire. Coalition troops were able to extinguish the fire and he was transported for treatment, according to Pentagon spokesman George Little.

The Afghan national was wearing a "desert utility uniform," similar to the ones coalition troops give to translators and other unarmed locals working with them, a defense official said. Coalition troops searched the man after putting out the flames and apprehending him, but they did not find an explosive device on him, according to the official. No motive or the Afghan's intent was known.

NATO officials said Panetta was never in any danger during his time at Camp Bastion. His plane was diverted upon landing, according to Little.
Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion are adjoining bases located in the southern Afghan province of Helmand. The United States runs the facilities at Camp Leatherneck, while the British oversee Camp Bastion.

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Marines • Military
soundoff (1,139 Responses)
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  8. Pete/Ark

    Think any of my brother jarheads gave it a thought ? We're all crazy enough to understand the point made by the General.... and calm enough to follow the order knowing that others had our VN I went to a Bob Hope show unarmed because it would have upset people at home to see guns...but I also knew who was out of camera sweat. Many of the people ranting here have no military experience...fewer are Marines.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Reply
  9. AngryAmerican

    The American government doesn't care about it's service men and women. They're about to get involved in yet another illegal conflict and sacrifice more American blood for their special interests(Syria, Iran).

    April 3, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Reply
  10. AngryAmerican

    Remember this Soldiers when our government declares martial law and they want you to start arresting American's.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Reply
  11. LB Hagen

    Disgusting Spectacle of American Soldiers Disarmed

    March 21, 2012 at 7:11 am | Reply
  12. maybe

    You're all a bunch of wind bag idiots. No one cares what any of you think!!!!

    March 18, 2012 at 2:54 am | Reply
  13. RME KRNL

    "(Major General) Gurganus later told reporters the decision had nothing to do with the weekend shooting, and said it was because the Afghan soldiers in attendance were unarmed and he did not want them treated differently than the Marines."

    Horse hockey!

    First, you NEVER ask Soldiers or Marines to disarm themselves in war zone for ANY reason!

    Second, it was ALREADY policy for Afghanis attending such gatherings to do so UNARMED, so the general's claim is an excuse, not a reason, and was a lie to boot.

    Seems like our generals are getting so PC they forget to include their BALLS when they put their pants on. I would be willing to bet hat someone in Panetta's entourage requested this action, probably generalizing from one Army NCO snapping and going on a killing rampage against Afghan civilians (maybe as revenge for the seven US soldiers murdered in cold blood by their Afghan counterparts).

    The act of one soldier should not make our SECDEF scared of our own troops. What these Marines were told to do in disarming themselves was shameful and wrong.

    March 17, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Reply
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    March 17, 2012 at 12:08 am | Reply
    • maybe

      Yaba Daba Du...

      March 18, 2012 at 2:57 am | Reply
    • frederick warner

      what the heck do credit card have to do with disarmement?

      May 29, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Reply
  15. RLee

    Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus must be relieved of command for dereliction of duty and putting US military personnel lives at risk in a hostile country. Especially in light of very recent events. He shows very poor judgment at the expense of US Marines. I have a hard time believing that Maj. Gen. Gurganus is a dedicated military commander; he is more concerned about politics than the men and women serving under him. He is a real coward!

    March 16, 2012 at 8:09 am | Reply
  16. me109g4

    This is what happens when you are "generally" proud of your soldiers
    When a leader can't trust his own soldiers, then you can't win a war.

    March 15, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
    • JoeClark

      Ok correction they do make mention of it but only to make the ludicrous assertion that the two aren't related.
      Man drives exploding truck at his plane in then he later requests disarming of soldiers, but oh no, the two aren't related nothing to see here.

      March 15, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Reply
    • Nakula

      This proves administration does not trust its own military! Soon secret service will be replaced by trusty Alqaeda and Taliban.

      March 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Reply
  17. me109g4

    This is what happens when you are "generally" proud of your soldiers.
    When a leader can't trust his own soldiers, then you can't win a war.

    March 15, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  18. Cluste

    Unbelievable! Marines unarmed in a war zone! So what if Camp Leatherneck is a 'secure' base. So what that the Afghans were asked to disarm! Might I remind everyone what happened on January 15, 2011 in Iraq? Two US Army Soldiers were killed, one wounded shot in the head by an Iraqi they had been training and should have only had access to "dummy ammo" So, the statement given by Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus is ridiculous. He puts his own troops in the same basket? No way, no excuse. The Afghans should be unarmed, so what if they felt "different"! I understand the cautious, no doubt there are fools out there, military and otherwise. However, they are everywhere including the highest positions in our government.

    March 15, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Reply
    • Susan Winters

      General Mark "the anus" Gurganus should be relieved of command immediately. And if the Commandant of the Marine Corps agrees this was a reasonable and prudent action, he should resign. Forcing officers to surrender sidearms is an insult. It demonstrated "feather-merchant" Gurganus is not fit to command a latrine cleaning squad and has the judgement of a moth.

      March 15, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  19. stanleyrock

    when obama gave a speech at u.s. naval academy, he would not go on stage until every naval officer had been disarmed. everyone had to give up their swords, that are part and participle of the oath they take. caveat emtor; defend your country with paper, not the sword, hah ha hah.

    March 15, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Reply
  20. paul

    Somebody really needs to go out more...
    "you've got one of the most important people in the world in the room," referring to Panetta.

    If soldiers were disarmed in order to be treated the same as Muslim soldeirs, it is fair enough but begs the question, why the hell do you have soldiers you cant trust and why might they want you dead... Anybody who thinks you can invade a country then torture, abuse and massacre a poulation at will, then ask them to join your army, needs their head examined...

    March 15, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Reply
  21. Dochowie

    Disgraceful. A marine general bowing down tomdomthe pc thing. I would suggest that the next time pancetta shows up Marines should remain outside and armed. To ask Marines in an active combat zone to disarm is dangerous and could have led to a tragic event. I don't care about pancetta, he's a political hack and could be replaced in seconds.

    March 15, 2012 at 9:31 am | Reply
    • duckforcover

      And people say we have nothing to fear from the government.

      March 15, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply
  22. Sayan Majumdar

    Reminds me of Adolph Hitler during final phase of World War II :(.

    Even his Field Marshals and Generals had to forsake their belts and sidearm prior meeting with their Fuhrer.


    March 15, 2012 at 8:23 am | Reply
    • Sayan Majumdar

      Yet do not forget, that it was top “Station Chief” Panetta who “got” Osama. Whether that was a major factor is anybody’s guess; is bound to bring up more controversial issues.


      March 15, 2012 at 8:36 am | Reply
  23. John

    This is B.S. Pretty sad the Secretary of Defense doesn't trust his own troops.

    March 15, 2012 at 6:52 am | Reply
    • joeprov

      It seems that the screening of them has become ineffective – They are acting like psychopaths lately.

      March 15, 2012 at 8:02 am | Reply
    • yob

      read the article b4 commenting turd!

      March 15, 2012 at 9:44 am | Reply
      • Ed

        Thank you, Yob... Bunch of idiots here.

        March 15, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • AngryAmerican

      Because they have seen 4-5 active tours genius. These soldiers are being pushed to their limits. Our government could care less about their well being.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Reply
  24. Vítor Vieira

    I'm sure you would ROFL if you knew what Panetta means in Portuguese slang...

    March 15, 2012 at 6:51 am | Reply
  25. Unclesan


    March 15, 2012 at 6:36 am | Reply
  26. Are you serious

    This is stupid. so now we dont trust our own troops? then our we are further insulted by a lame ass excuse of not being treated different from afghans. what a slap in the face. this is to me and all my brothers in arms Go fight be injured scarred and die for us, but dnt sit around me armed while i give some lame ass speech no one cares about while you could be doing better things

    March 15, 2012 at 5:47 am | Reply
    • Unclesan

      We are surounded by inept leaders while the oil and weapons industry get rich!

      March 15, 2012 at 6:34 am | Reply
      • Are you serious


        March 15, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  27. Churchill

    Yea, hehehehe, could Panetta's paranoia problem progress profusely into something quite disturbing? Perhaps, it's common among traitors. He ought to consider resigning and seek professional help. He's worthless anyway, except to the globalist agenda.

    March 15, 2012 at 4:25 am | Reply
    • Jbake

      Who do you think should be Secretary of Defense?

      March 15, 2012 at 4:36 am | Reply
      • Unclesan

        I am convinced Mickey Mouse can do a much better job!

        March 15, 2012 at 6:03 am |
      • Walrus

        Hey! I like Donald Duck better than Mickey Mouse. But I do agree that Mickey could do a much better job than Leon (quaking in my boots) Panetta

        March 15, 2012 at 7:30 am |
      • VN_Libya

        Donald Duck

        March 15, 2012 at 7:32 am |
      • puka mana

        Who should be the sec of defense ? Mother Teresa if she were alive. The Dali Lama should be, cause he's not into war, rape and plunder, and colonization. George Carlin would be my other choice.

        March 15, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  28. Jbake

    The reason why the marines were disarmed is because the speech was not just for the Marines, it was for the Afghan National Army there too. So, if the afghani's were told to put away their weapons and the Marines got to keep theirs it would look bad. The idea here is, Panetta was worried about the ANA shooting him, not the marines. But, as I said, one Army without weapons sitting with another WITH weapons shows unfairness and would further hurt the situation the U.S. Army Soldier got all coalition forces in (God bless him though).

    March 15, 2012 at 4:09 am | Reply
    • Jbake

      I would like to add: This procedure shouldn't be looked so hard into. If it is defense people are worried about for these Marines, don't be worried. There is a perimeter outside of leatherneck with towers and guards, a roving guard on the ground, and probably numerous patrols outside of the base. Every local national that works on or near leatherneck probably has an escort as well.

      Its not a big deal...really lol. The Marines will be fine.

      March 15, 2012 at 4:18 am | Reply
      • Paull

        Dont forget about the Cobra attack helicopters patrolling around Leatherneck and Bastion!

        March 15, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
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