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MarSOC report: More investigation needed

Jun. 28, 2008 - 03:56PM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 28, 2008 - 03:56PM  |  
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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — An unreleased report by a military court of inquiry recommended that a Marine spec ops officer relieved of his command should receive no further punishment, but Maj. Fred Galvin could still lose his career.

Meanwhile, two officers and two enlisted Marines were recommended for further investigation and possible criminal charges, which the general overseeing the investigation decided to handle administratively and out of the public eye.

In its executive summary recommendations, obtained by Marine Corps Times, the three-officer panel agreed that Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command officials were "appropriate" in relieving Galvin of command over Marine Special Operations Company-Fox, following a questionable firefight and other incidents in Afghanistan.

"No further action should be taken against [Major] Galvin," according to the report, signed by the panel of two colonels and a lieutenant colonel.

Interactive:

http://www.militarytimes.com/projects/061208mc_marsoc_timeline/">MarSOC timeline

After reviewing the panel's recommendations, Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, commander of Marine Corps Forces Central Command, announced May 23 that criminal charges would not be brought against Galvin or Capt. Vincent Noble, who commanded the Fox Company platoon accused of killing as many as 19 Afghan civilians during a March 4, 2007, firefight.

MarCent released a statement May 23 saying no Marines involved in the incident would face criminal charges, but three officers — Galvin, Noble and Capt. Robert Olson, the company's executive officer — would face administrative proceedings.

"Administrative, manning and training issues relative to the March 4 and March 9, 2007, incidents" were "brought to light during the Court of Inquiry," the statement says. "Appropriate administrative actions based on the finding of the Court of Inquiry will be taken."

On its Web site, MarSOC released additional information May 23 saying Helland recommended two enlisted Marines face administrative action by MarSOC. The call for administrative action stems from incidents that occurred five days after the firefight.

(Page 2 of 4)

The court of inquiry said that "due to [Galvin's] loss of operational control of his unit on 9 March 2007," MarSOC was right to relieve him of command.

He and Olson face boards of inquiry, MarCent spokesman Lt. Col. Sean Gibson said. The boards are administrative in nature, not criminal proceedings.

Additional findings

Marines who testified during the nearly month-long inquiry at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in January said a small-arms ambush ensued immediately after their convoy was hit by a suicide vehicle bomb the morning of March 4. They responded, allegedly killing and wounding unarmed civilians as their convoy headed toward its base camp.

Less than a month later, the entire 120-man company was kicked out of the country by Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney, an Army officer who was a two-star general and the top special operations commander in the region at the time.

The military made condolence payments to more than 50 Afghans who said they were injured, had a family member killed or had personal property damaged the morning the platoon was attacked.

Helland determined the platoon acted appropriately "and in accordance with the rules of engagement and tactics, techniques and procedures in place at the time in response to a complex attack."

Most of what occurred March 9 was discussed in closed session during the inquiry. The few details released about that day — that two vehicles had flipped over and Fox Company Marines used escalation of force tactics — came at the end of the inquiry.

The panel's opinion was that what happened March 4 and the incidents of March 9 "are factually independent," according to the report.

"These incidents do not evidence a pattern of the indiscriminate use of force, or the disproportional use of force," the report said.

In fact, the panel concluded, several circumstances contributed to the company's "apparent failure" and redeployment, according to the report. Some of those included: the company's lack of support personnel; pre-deployment training that focused on direct action and special reconnaissance missions instead of foreign internal defense and counterinsurgency operations; and "ineffective" communication between the company, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan and the commander in the region.

(Page 3 of 4)

And, though not related, the panel said the March 9 incidents "provided the trigger" for the company's expulsion from Afghanistan. That day included an unauthorized mission led by Noble, according to the report.

After the March 4 attack, the CJSOTF-A commander ordered Fox Company leaders not to operate in Jalalabad. The commander also said that members of the platoon involved in the March 4 incident could not participate in future missions "except in exigent circumstances and until further notice," according to the report.

But Noble planned a reconnaissance mission in the Jalalabad area March 9 and "masked" the mission by sending a different mission plan to the MarSOC liaison officer, according to the report.

The panel recommended that Noble be charged with false official statement, failure to obey a lawful order and obstruction of justice. The obstruction of justice recommendation stemmed from Noble "asking his Marines to lie about the true mission location masked by the false [plan]," according to the report.

"Given Captain Noble's superior combat record and the mitigating action taken by him to correct his mistakes, Captain Noble's case should be referred to [Maj. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, MarSOC commander] for appropriate disciplinary and/or administrative action," the report says.

Helland presided over Noble's nonjudicial proceeding June 6. "[Noble] has not been separated," Gibson said.

Hejlik has not made a decision on what duties Noble will be assigned, MarSOC spokesman Capt. Michael Armistead said.

The board of inquiry recommended Olson be "investigated for breaches of security regulations, for mishandling classified material and possible obstruction of justice, for deleting files from his classified computer and defragmenting his classified computer," according to the report.

When a representative from Task Force Spartan — which owned the battle space — called and asked for a copy of the mission brief, Olson "erroneously" sent the mission Noble intended to complete, not the masked operation approved by CJSOTF-A, according to the report.

(Page 4 of 4)

"Captain Olson's error triggered questions up the TF Spartan and CSOFT-A chains of command regarding the true location of the mission," according to the report.

Also recommended for charges by the panel are two enlisted Marines, a staff sergeant and sergeant. The court suggested they be charged with false official statement or perjury "for untruthful immunized testimony given during the Court of Inquiry regarding the 9 March 2007 debrief conducted by Captain Noble."

The Marines testified that they did not attend Noble's debrief that day, but the panel concluded that the evidence suggests otherwise.

Hejlik is reviewing the cases of the two enlisted Marines and has not decided what action, if any, he will take, Armistead said. Neither Galvin nor Olson attended the briefing, according to the report.

The company planned two other missions March 9 — a cache-recovery operation and a vehicle-recovery operation, the report said. Each mission was met with problems.

During the vehicle-recovery mission, the brakes seized on a 5-ton truck being towed by a smaller truck, causing both vehicles to roll over, according to the report.

A Humvee rolled over on the cache-recovery mission, injuring an Afghan civilian. The accident was followed by two incidents of escalation of force, which injured another Afghan hit by shattered windshield glass.

The panel concluded that there was no evidence to suggest the level of force was unjustified, however. The court recommended everyone in the March 4 convoy be awarded the Combat Action Ribbon and that a sergeant injured during the blast receive the Purple Heart.

Those recommendations are "currently moving through the awards board process," Armistead said.

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