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Marine Corps Commandant wants review of Afghanistan evacuation

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger (US Dept of Defense/Released)
September 02, 2021

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger wants his staff to examine the recent evacuation mission in Afghanistan to learn what went wrong, what went right, and what the service can learn for the future.

“While it’s relatively fresh in our minds, we need the honest, open critique, or a commission or whatever it is, that cracks open what were the options that were available. Who made what decisions at what time. Not so that we can penalize or hang somebody by a yardarm, but actually so that we can learn,” Berger said Wednesday during an event with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Berger said they are looking at past reviews to decide on a framework for this review, such as the Long and Holloway commissions that looked into the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and the failed Iranian hostage rescue mission in 1980, respectively.

His spokesman, Maj. Eric Flanagan, clarified in an email Wednesday afternoon that the commandant has asked his headquarters staff to pause, look back at recent events, “and critique what went well and what can improve,” but that it is not a formal commission.

The military evacuation of Americans and Afghans from Kabul involved 6,000 service members, including thousands of Marines. The airlift was the largest noncombatant evacuation in U.S. military history, rescuing more than 123,000 civilians, Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said Monday.

On Aug. 18, Berger wrote a letter to the force with Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black on the topic of whether the war in Afghanistan was worth it, in light of the Taliban takeover of the country and the massive evacuation effort then underway at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

“We both believe—without question—that your service was meaningful, powerful, and important. You answered the call to serve, proudly carrying the torch of so many generations of Marines before you,” they wrote, adding, “Was it worth it? Yes. Does it still hurt? Yes.”

Several days later, on Aug. 26, 11 Marines were killed in a terrorist attack at the airport, along with a soldier and a Navy corpsman. Dozens more service members were injured and medically evacuated to Germany, before continuing to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

While it is important to look critically at what happened, Berger said, the past several days have not altered his opinion that the mission was worth it.

“If you were to go to Walter Reed right now to visit a Marine or a sailor or a soldier who’s wounded, and you ask them that question, they would respond with, ‘I know it is, because I can tell you how many people we processed through our evacuation control center and put on a plane.’ This is their yardstick,” he said.

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