After almost a decade, the Marine Corps has publicly exonerated a group of nearly 30 elite special operations Marines falsely accused of war crimes in Afghanistan in 2007, according to a North Carolina congressman.
But a letter from the commandant’s office to Rep. Walter Jones merely affirms the ruling of a court that convened years ago ― a rather tepid gesture toward the Marine commandos who have suffered through years of shame and humiliation stemming from a rash judgment by the Pentagon and senior U.S. military officials.
The team, dubbed Task Force Violent, was publicly ostracized by senior military officials who initially accused the Marines of killing civilians during an ambush in Bati Kot district of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province in March 2007. But formal investigations later found no misconduct by the Marines.
On Wednesday, Jones, a Republican from North Carolina who has spent years advocating for the Marine commandos, said in a news release that he “applauded the United States Marine Corps for publicly exonerating” the special operations team.
But for nearly ten years, the men with Task Force Violent have been forced to carry the burden of that fateful day, wounds and a stigma that has reverberated for years in their lives and careers.
“We are concerned to hear of the challenges many members of Fox Company are facing — which are, unfortunately, far too common among our combat veterans,” Maj. Gen. Frederick Padilla, the staff director for Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller, said to Jones in a letter. “I have asked the Commanding Officer of our Wounded Warrior regiment to follow-up with these Marines to ensure they are receiving appropriate and all necessary care and support.”
Despite what appears to be a sincere gesture by the Corps to put the issue to rest and exonerate the Marine special operators of wrongdoing, the commandant’s office took a inexplicable ten years just to publicly reiterate the findings of a Court of Inquiry that convened in 2008 at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
The Corps’ letter comes after Jones’ office wrote to the top Marine in December 2017 requesting his office review Task Force Violent’s case. The commandant’s office responded in only two months, while the MARSOC operators have spent years seeking to more fully absolve their team of any wrongdoing, which was not unbeknownst to the top Marine’s office.
The latest letter raises the question of why the commandant’s office waited so long to make a simple public affirmation of the court’s ruling.
“The Marine Corps has consistently said, in agreement with MARCENT [Marine Corps Forces Central Command] commanding general’s decision announced publicly May 23, 2008, that the Marines of Fox Co. acted appropriately in response to the Mar. 4, 2007 complex attack in Afghanistan,” Lt. Col. Eric Dent, the commandant’s spokesman told Marine Corps Times Thursday.
“Both Gen. Dunford and Gen. Neller, as the 36th and 37th Commandants respectively, openly supported this position and remain steadfast in their support of the MARCENT commander’s characterization of the Fox Co. Marines’ tactical actions on Mar. 4, 2007,” Dent said.
In 2008 the court found the Marine commandos operated within the confines of the Law of Armed Conflict and that their actions “reflected sound military judgment.”
“Unless there is new and relevant information that was not known at the time, I fear there is nothing to be gained by re-visiting the events of March 4, 2007 in order to re-state the conclusions of the Court of Inquiry a decade later,” Padilla said in his letter to Jones.
Task Force Violent, led by Maj. Fred Galvin, who is now retired, was part of the then-newly formed Marine Special Operations Command’s first deployment. Just thirty days after arriving in Afghanistan, the team came under a heavy ambush.
Initial reports from the battlefield seemed to suggest the team went on a shooting frenzy, killing scores of civilians.
The team was publicly shamed and kicked out of country. Galvin was stripped of his command following the incident, and the team was blacklisted in the annals of history as a stain on MARSOC’s first deployment.
At the Court of Inquiry, Marines most directly involved in the incident faced potential charges of negligent homicide.
Press reports about the court proceedings produced a one-sided narrative because important testimony was classified and took place behind closed doors.
The lopsided information flow resulted in a February 2008 cover of the Marine Corps Times that mischaracterized the team and its exploits.
Galvin dedicated the next decade of his life working to clear the names of the unit and the Marines under his command.
The accounts of Galvin, his men and the incident that day were later detailed by Marine Corps Times in a five-part series in 2015 that underscored the rush to judgment to condemn the Marines by senior military officials and the public.
“These men have been to hell and back,” Jones said press release Wednesday. “They were bravely serving their country, only to have their personal and professional lives ruined by misinformation and poor timing.
I very much appreciate General Neller and his staff for taking a look at this case and reiterating that these men did nothing wrong on March 4, 2007.”
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.