Camp Bastion Attack : A Very Tough Story To Tell

On September 14, 2012, 15 Taliban raiders entered Camp Bastion: a British-run NATO air base in the southern part of Helmand Province : killed 2 US Marines: Lt. Col Christopher Raible- the Harrier squadron Commander, and his Sgt. Bradley Atwell.They wounded 8 others,destroyed 6 AV-8B Harrier jet fighters, and heavily damaged 2 more; damaged a number of helicopters,burned 3 re-fueling stations, and badly damaged 6 hangars.

The huge base was originally thought to be impregnable. It had 30′ high chain link fence, topped with razor wire, and was equipped with sensors to detect any attempt at cutting it.

The Taliban sent a suicide bomber to the fence, and, when he detonated the explosives he was wearing, he blew a 15′ hole in the fence.

One report I’ve read suggests the Taliban simply drove up to fence—and should have been spotted by the “heavily-armed sentries” in the 2 guard towers–BUT –only 1 tower was guarded at a time (Plastic dummies were hoisted up to suggest otherwise) and the Tongan Defense Service troops had become notorious for sleeping on duty.

The Kingdom of Tonga – whose main industry seems to be tourism -had signed a Treaty of Friendship with the British, and had volunteered 40-50 troops to serve in “The Coalition of the Willing” for short periods of time.

The proper answer would have been : “Thanks, but no thanks !” – and I’m guessing that was the initial reaction of commanders in the field ; but-when the “Beautiful People” decide something would be a “Good Thing” , you get Tongan troops training in force protection with a visiting RAF regiment, and taking a “visible role” in base security.

At this point, it is necessary to point out Camp Bastion – and adjoining Camp Leatherneck (a huge installation recently turned over to Afghanistan),were under the overall command of US Marine Major General Charles M. Gurgamus. The air units were under the command of Marine Major General Gregg A. Sturdevant.

The two generals could have-and should have screamed bloody murder at the make-believe Tongan security : especially since there had been hostile Taliban activity nearby – including an attempt to drive a vehicle through a gate that ended when the driver set himself afire.

There had been a recent “draw down” of US forces, but, in the light of the recent threats, Marines who were working out in the gym, taking online college courses,and otherwise spending time in idleness, could have been put to work beefing up base security. (One Marine enlisted man said his platoon had not even been trained in responding to threats-but I find that a bit doubtful !)

General James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, relieved both generals of command, and demanded their retirement; saying they :”failed to exercise the level of judgment expected of commanders of their rank”

He added : ” It was unrealistic to think that a determined enemy would not be able to penetrate the perimeter fence.”

Worth noting: Commandant Amos is a close personal friend of Maj. Gen. Gurganus,and had-before this attack, placed his name in for nomination to Lt. General.

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