A Navy records board has exonerated the commander of Marine special operations team and paved his way for a promotion more than decade after the unit was falsely accused of killing civilians during a March 2007 ambush in Bati Kot district of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.
The board cited a 2008 Court of Inquiry decision that found the team had operated within the confines of the Law of Armed Conflict when it engaged militants in a violent ambush. And it’s the latest in a series of letters and Pentagon records, including a recent letter from the commandant’s office, that have cleared the elite team of accusations of wrongdoing.
The records board approved a request to remove adverse paperwork from the team’s former commanding officer, now-Ret. Maj. Fred Galvin, and called for the convening of a special selections board to consider his promotion to lieutenant colonel.
Galvin had been relieved of his command and his unit booted from Afghanistan following false accusations of war crimes in 2007 — while some members of the commando outfit faced potential negligent homicide charges.
Specifically, the board approved the removal of a fitness report dated June 1, 2006 to April 3, 2007 — which covered Galvin’s command of the Marine special operations team in Afghanistan — and the removal of a no misconduct report regarding the calamitous events of March 2007.
The board also agreed to remove an adverse fitness report stemming from an unrelated incident while Galvin served as an operations officer in 2011 for 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Galvin spared with his battalion commander over the need to use a lower yield munition during a fire fight that was dangerously close to Marines on the ground, which resulted in his relief and adverse paperwork.
Fitness reports in the Marine Corps are a career performance evaluation tool and negative paperwork can stymie future career progression and promotions.
"This report from the thorough review held by senior civilian leaders at the Pentagon unanimously determined that not only did our Marines do exactly what they were supposed to do during the deployment of the first Marine Special Operations Task Force into combat in Afghanistan in 2007 but that false reports not only from locals but up to the Prime Minister of Afghanistan that were publicly reinforced by senior military officers led to our removal from Afghanistan, a criminal investigation and following trial that left many of the facts unclear as they were never publicly address by the Pentagon until today,” Galvin told Marine Corps Times.
The board said the March ambush “corrupted the judgement of the RS [reporting senior],” which also led to Galvin’s removal from command of the special operations team and his removal from Afghanistan.
Galvin was the commanding officer of elite Marine special operators dubbed Task Force Violent, which was part of Marine Forces Special Operations Command’s first deployment to Afghanistan.
On March 4th 2007, 30 members of the team embarked on a six vehicle convoy near the village of Bati Kot when a bomb laden car approached the convoy and detonated. The Marines then fought back a complex ambush.
Following the attack, media reports spilled onto the internet detailing scores of innocent civilians killed.
An investigation into the incident was launched and the Marine commandos were restricted from operating in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Members of the team involved in the ambush were ordered not to participate in future missions unless deemed necessary.
Another event on March 9, 2007, involving the Marine commandos further aggravated the situation and hastened their departure from the country.
The Marine commandos submitted a concept of operations for a several reconnaissance missions, but a platoon commander with the unit “masked” a route showing the convoy moving through the restricted operation zone of Jalalabad to an operating point south of the area.
But a later mission confirmation brief clearly indicated the reconnaissance objective was in Jalalabad, not the southern point submitted with the concept of operations.
The issue raised questions as to the location and intent of the team, and the unit was recalled before it ever made it to its final destination.
The incident was magnified by the investigation that was already underway for the March 4 ambush that appeared to paint a picture of a renegade group of cowboys.
“The Board determined the enemy information operation and responses of senior leaders were the proximate cause of the MSOC-F [Marine Special Operations Company-F] redeployment and actions taken against Petitioner were “collateral damage,” the Navy board said in its determination.
“The Board determined the events of March 4, 2007 set in motion events that contributed to the unsuccessful operations of March 9, 2007 and the perception Petitioner lost operational control,” the Navy board said.
Galvin was relieved of his command for the incidents that occurred in March 2007, and the Marine special operators were kicked out of the country.
The team was ostracized by public statements made by senior officials and Afghan leaders, which has taken a heavy toll on their lives.
And because much of the testimony during the Court of Inquiry was classified, a one-sided narrative of the incident developed in the media.
That led to a February 2008 Marine Corps Times cover story that misrepresented the team and the events that unfolded in Afghanistan.
Galvin has spent more than a decade trying to clear his team’s name.
In February 2018, a letter from the commandant’s office to North Carolina Republican Congressman Walter Jones affirmed the ruling of the court and exonerated the team.
“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 about the letter sent to Jones.
“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.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., called for the Marine commandos’ story to be fully told in a statement posted to the Congressional Record in December 2018.
“These reports of war crimes were unsubstantiated, and these Marines deserve to be recognized for their courage as they encountered the enemy,” the former California representative said.
The Navy records board further stated that Galvin “rightfully took a moral stand” when he challenged his battalion commander during a separate 2011 deployment to Afghanistan to use a smaller munition that would better protect Marines and Afghan civilians on the ground.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.