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Typically, that General is Removed


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Do general officers have an obligation to publicly tell the truth?


I have an interesting perspective on this question.


Currently, the Marine Corps teaches my story at the E-8 seminar (senior enlisted school). If you remember, I was the Marine officer who, via video, made a plea for accountability from military leaders who purposely abandoned Bagram airbase, American citizens and American military sacrifices. Shortly thereafter, I was fired, placed in solitary confinement and kicked out of the military short of my retirement. My story is not used to discuss leadership failures and operational mistakes during the Afghan withdrawal, but as a case study on why not to publicly criticize leadership.


Military culture clearly signals: Making leadership look bad is far more dangerous than obediently failing. To date, not a single military leader assumes accountability for their failures at the end of Afghanistan.


CNN recently published an article titled, “New evidence challenges the Pentagon’s account of a horrific attack as the US withdrew from Afghanistan.” It offers new video evidence and first-hand accounts of a significant gunfight following the suicide bomb attack in Kabul, during the American withdrawal. The article illustrates more facts contradicting the current political administration, and, by extension, the current military leadership’s version of events. The U.S. military conducted multiple investigations on the Abbey Gate incident, but somehow missed the evidence CNN uncovered, concluding that any gunfire was only a result of warning shots, and not part of a complex attack.


Why would military leadership want to convince parents of killed service members and the rest of the American public that ball bearings from a suicide vest were the only lethal hazard during the attack, despite video evidence demonstrating the opposite?


Objectively, because the American military failure was so complete, a singular suicide bomber not affiliated with the Taliban was less damaging to an already fragile political narrative. The “extraordinary success of this mission,” as the President called the Afghan evacuation five days after the suicide attack, was only marginally credible when echoed by obedient military leaders whom Americans still believed were capable of public honesty.


General McKenzie, the theater commander, on 30 August 2021, echoed his political leadership by calling the operation a “monumental accomplishment.” It wasn’t until two years after his retirement that he stated in a Fox News interview, “I have a lot of regrets about how it ended in Afghanistan. I regret the basic decision, which I think was the wrong decision. And I particularly regret that we did not choose to evacuate our people, our embassy personnel, or American citizens, and our at-risk Afghans, at the time we made the decision to bring out our combat forces. I think that was a serious mistake and led to the events of August 2021 directly.” He then went on to say, “I believe history will view the manner in which the Afghanistan withdrawal was conducted as a fatal flaw, and history will be very hard on that.”


While some of us may appreciate that General McKenzie finally summoned the courage to tell the truth, many others remain upset that American leadership allows military incompetence to hide behind political decisions.


General McKenzie, following the Fox News interview, testified again on 19 March 2024, to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. During the testimony he didn’t address why a military strong-point within a section of Bagram Air base wasn’t feasible with his limited numbers; or why he couldn’t use public discourse to influence obvious military operational errors. Instead, he stated, “It remains my opinion that if there is culpability in this attack, it lies in policy decisions… It does not lie with the flag officers who oversaw operations on the ground.”


Remember, in the middle of the night on 1 July 2021, under the orders of General McKenzie, military leaders at all levels allowed the abandonment of Bagram Air Base. By doing so they left behind between 5,000 and 7,000 prisoners in the detention facility. Of note, more American-hating prisoners were freed by the Taliban from that prison than the entire American military force that later responded to the self-induced crisis that took place at HKIA airfield.


Military leadership still claims that a foreign fighter slipped past the Taliban and conducted an isolated attack. But it seems much more probable that the suicide bomber and the accomplices originated from the prison on the fortified base (Bagram), which happened to be only 40 miles away from the undefendable base (HKIA airfield). A select few of these newly freed believers of the global caliphate were easily manipulated, assisted and armed by the Taliban to conduct an attack on an enemy (United States) dominating them for decades. With this understanding, it’s even more embarrassing thinking about a marginalized General McKenzie granting the Taliban complete control of the American military’s exterior security. Before the attack, General McKenzie even publicly called the Taliban “a critical partner.”


And as if the list of Afghanistan military evacuation blunders wasn’t long enough, following the complex attack at the gate, the American military conducted a retaliatory drone strike on the “ISIS-K” enemy. General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the time, conditioned like all other military leaders to support political narratives, quickly declared the drone strike a “righteous strike.” But weeks later, investigative reporters compelled the Defense Department to reveal that the “righteous strike” only killed women and children.


So again, should American citizens expect honesty from military leadership if the truth reflects poorly on political leadership?


The following interview reveals insights to the question. A year ago, on 29 March 2023, Congressman Jim Banks questioned Defense Secretary Austin on the Afghanistan withdrawal.


Rep. Banks: “Do you have regrets about the withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Secretary Austin: “I support the President’s decision.”


Rep. Banks: “Do you have regrets about the withdrawal or how the withdrawal occurred from Afghanistan that cost the lives of thirteen of our service members?”


Secretary Austin: “I don’t have any regrets.”


Rep. Banks: “You don’t have any regrets, that’s very telling. Secretary Austin, has there ever been any accountability for anyone from the Department Defense for the deadly botched and embarrassing Afghanistan withdrawal? Any accountability? Has anyone been held accountable? If a Navy Captain grounded a ship, what happens immediately?”


Secretary Austin: “Typically that Captain is removed.”


Rep. Banks: “That Captain is removed. Has anyone been held accountable for what happened in Afghanistan.”


Secretary Austin: “To my knowledge no.”


Unfortunately for Americans, Secretary Austin epitomizes the lap dog nature of current American military leadership. Secretary Austin signals to all subordinates that facts should be molded within the political narrative of the boss du jour. Other facts, like the video evidence uncovered by CNN during the complex attack at the Abbey Gate, can be quickly dismissed.


To be clear, current military leadership protecting a culture of failure does not necessarily mean America has a politicized military as Risa Brooks proposes in her March 2024 Foreign Affairs article, “The Creeping Politicization of the U.S. Military.” The University of California PhD, having never served in the military, is credentialed a “military expert,” because she, like many other Defense Department attachments, worked at a military academy. These elitists want to protect the current establishment and believe if the next administration removes current military leaders, it will only further weaken the military. This line of thinking is more of the same. The hard reality is that Americans cannot continue defending military leadership that clearly falls short in basic standards of competence, courage, and accountability.  


Despite the PhD’s protests, the next President must fix the culture of the military, and it starts by removing the current Defense Secretary, Chairman and all similar officers because silent obedience and incompetence should not be tolerated anymore in the American military. We need a Secretary of Defense to act like General Marshall after WWI and change the culture by firing an entire generation of archaic general officers.

Anyone believing the losing culture of the military can be changed while maintaining current military leadership should contemplate the following three questions: 


1) Was the Afghanistan Withdrawal/Evacuation a military failure?


2) Should a General Officer be fired or held accountable for losing a war?


3) Do General Officers have an obligation to publicly tell the truth while still in uniform?


A “yes” answer to any of the above question signals the need for changes in military leadership.


Yet, you won’t find these questions at any E-8 seminar because they demand critical thinking beyond what the current bosses want. Unfortunately, men with power always protect that power despite the costs to We the People. The military is no different. Openly assessing failure is the only way the military evolves.


This administration, and the silently obedient general officers, cannot change the military’s losing culture after tacitly endorsing it with their actions. New military leadership, built on the bedrock of accountability, talent, and moral courage, must be installed by the next administration.


Rebuilding our military should start with a simple phrase intended for those protecting the losing military culture, something like, “You’re fired.”


Stuart Scheller is a former USMC infantry officer and author of Crisis of Command: How We Lost Trust and Confidence in America’s Generals and Politicians.



The full article Typically, that General is Removed was written on May 4, 2024, and published by Real Clear Defence. 

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10 Comments


Dear Mr. Scheller,

Your commitment to accountability and transparency in military leadership has clearly resonated with many. However, the path you’ve chosen seems to have reached a plateau, primarily echoing within a circle already familiar with your story. This creates a risk of your critical message losing its potency and turning into a refrain that, while soothing to some, might not extend beyond those already in agreement with you.

History shows us that officers who have faced adversity for their principles have found varied paths forward. Billy Mitchell, for example, became a celebrated pioneer despite his early struggles. In contrast, others have silently faded, recognizing the entrenched nature of the systems they challenged. This history presents a choice: to transform…

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I got it. You want me to run for politics. Not sure that’s what I want.

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SF Chris

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FyrDawg53
FyrDawg53
May 06

Gone are the days of "real Generals", Eisenhower, "Blackjack Pershing, Patton, McArthur, Marshall, Puller, LeMay, Olds, Schwarzkopf, Horner, Moore, Bradley, Ridgway, Gavin etc. Generals who "cared" about their men, who grieved, knowing many of those brave troops would die following their orders. Far too many of todays "Flag Officers" are politicians looking for a retirement and a better paying job as a consultant or lobbyist. Then, there are disgusting men like retired Rear Admiral John Kirby......a pathetic comparison to Admirals Chester Nimitz and "Bull" Halsey. None of the aforementioned were "perfect" but they were military officers and respected leaders FIRST. Politics may have come later (even Presidential) but was not the first and foremost mission. IMHO, Def Sec Austin…

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Lieutenant Colonel Scheller is entirely correct in his views and assessment of current senior US military leadership, mostly at the flag level but there are those careerist at the 05/06 level willing to trade away their moral compass for further promotion. The rot in the US Services is now legion and obvious. The fact is every brand spanking new infantry officer graduating from the USMC Infantry Officers Course has as example been taught about the use and employment of a “strong point in depth defense” which carries with it the flexibility to go the offense briefly if the situation and troops available allow for it.

Walking from Bagram Airbase was the last clink in the wall of a cascading catastrophe…

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This is not the first time, all one has to do is look at October 23, 1983 bombing to determine how low in the ranks blame was placed. However, the truth when finally discovered was the command had requested additional security steps be taken but the Pentagon as well as SECDEF advised we want a low profile not a combat posture. As we all know the results were disastrous and our pull out encouraged the jihadist to understand American politics and their failure in protecting the troops. October 23, 1983 sit in stone what happened during this withdrawal. The American Public as well as the young men and women serving in today's military are nothing but cannon fodder to th…

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