By Jamie Crawford
The top U.S. commanders of a coalition base in southern Afghanistan "failed to take adequate force protection" measures prior to a September 2012 attack by the Taliban that led to the deaths of two Marines and the destruction of military aircraft, according to a report on the incident.
Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos fired the two senior commanders of the base at the time, Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus and Maj. Gen. Gregg Sturdevant, essentially forcing them into retirement.
The investigation was directed by Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who leads Central Command, to determine any potential accountability for the attack.
Army Lt. Gen. William B. Garrett III was the investigating officer for the report released Wednesday and his deputy was Marine Maj. Gen. Thomas M. Murray.
Fifteen Taliban insurgents, dressed in U.S. Army uniforms, went undetected as they breached the eastern perimeter of the complex, and then split into three separate teams to conduct the assault on the base.
According to the report, Gurganus, who maintained overall command of security at the American base, "knew, or should have known" about persistent risks to the compound's security, and "underestimated the threat posed by the enemy's capabilities."
Several factors – from inadequate patrolling of the base perimeter, to a faulty assessment of the threat posed by potential enemy infiltrators contributed to security shortcomings at the complex, the report said.
Gurganus narrowly missed being hit in another attack on the base in March 2012 as a disgruntled Afghan interpreter working for coalition forces drove on to the airfield where then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was scheduled to arrive for a visit. The interpreter, driving a commandeered vehicle, was eventually pushed into a ditch before lighting himself on fire.
Despite that incident, the report said the commanders "failed to implement adequate measures" to control the access of pedestrians to the airfield. The perpetrators of the September attack were able to exploit that lapse in their attack.
That incident and others led to a heightened threat environment the commanders should have taken into account, the report said.
The intelligence officer for the regional command had indicated "there were consistent indicators that the Taliban wanted to gain access and attack" the complex, the report said.
Although the United States maintained security at Camp Leatherneck and the British did the same for Camp Bastion, the British base on the complex, the report said Sturdevant "failed to effectively integrate" adequate security for the airfield at Camp Bastion, an airfield shared by U.S. and British forces.
The report said Sturdevant mistakenly assumed that other military units operating on the Bastion airfield would provide protection to U.S. aircraft there.
In an interview with investigators, Sturdevant indicated he had discussions with his British counterparts about the rules of engagement with enemy infiltrators, in which "we realized that there were some very, very different interpretations of (rules of engagement) and self defense."
And security cooperation between U.S. and British forces on the complex appeared to be an issue as well.
U.S. forces never discussed or rehearsed with British forces how they would coordinate a response during an attack the report said.
"At no point prior to the attack did Maj. Gen. Gurganus or Maj. Gen. Sturdevant recognize or attempt to correct this force protection deficiency."
The attack occurred during the deployment of Britain's Prince Harry who was based at Camp Bastion while serving as an Apache copilot gunner.
The investigation "found no evidence that Camp Bastion personnel reduced their security posture on the perimeter to provide enhanced internal security" for the prince.
"The only thing special we did for him was we had a place identified as a safe house in case the base came under attack," Sturdevant said in an interview with investigators. "The night of the attack, he slept through the entire thing. We didn't do anything special for him. He came and went, and you never would have known he was there."