On March 14th, 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Camp Leatherneck, a large military base in the desert of Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Tensions were already high because of the incident where an American soldier reportedly snapped and killed 16 Afghan civilians, mostly children and women; the Taliban have threatened to behead Americans in country in reprisal. About 200 Marines, Afghan security officers and troops from other coalition nations were assembled to hear Panetta in person.
But before he arrived to speak, the ranking Marine on the scene, Sgt. Maj. Brandon Hall, abruptly asked the troops to get up, place their weapons, which included M-16 and M-4 automatic rifles and 9-mm pistols, outside the tent and then return unarmed. This is considered atypical because American forces in Afghanistan have previously been allowed to keep their weapons with them when the defense secretary visits and speaks to them.
Afterwards, Sgt. Maj. Hall said that he was acting on orders from superiors. The superior was later identified as Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus, who had decided on Tuesday March 13th that no one would be armed while Panetta spoke to them. However, word of Gen. Gurganus' decision did not reach those in charge in the tent until shortly before Panetta's arrival. Gurganus told CNN that the Afghan soldiers in attendance were unarmed and he did not want them treated differently than the Marines. So far, there is no evidence that Panetta himself personally ordered the disarming.
While it is unusual for American troops to be asked to disarm before an appearance by an Administration figure in Afghanistan, it is not unprecedented. John posted a comment to the CNN story indicating that during a command visit to the Desert Storm theater by President George H.W. Bush in 1991, every troop within two miles of the assembly point was required to surrender the bolts to their weapons during Bush's visit. And Andy in Atlanta noted that the deciding factor as to whether or not troops remain armed in the presence of the SecDef is their location in the theater of operations. He cited previous pictures of Panetta and his predecessor Gates in Afghanistan/Iraq which show that in some the troops were armed while in others the soldiers/marines were unarmed. If the troops are in a "forward" area, they tend to remain armed.
But because of the genuine unpopularity of the Obama Administration among rank-and-file American citizens, coupled with the Administration's drive to push social engineering in the military, most readers view the disarming with suspicion, and believe the Obama Administration is actually fearful of the troops. Many troops have openly supported Ron Paul's presidential candidacy. Panetta himself fueled the alienation when on March 8th, during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he hinted that the Administration's authority comes not just from the U.S. Constitution, but also from the United Nations and NATO, and that they did not necessarily feel they needed to get permission from Congress to commit America to war. Here's a sampling of comments from several sources (after the jump):
Lord Ligonier, March 14, 2012 at 9:03 a.m. (New York Times):
Disarming the troops is very disturbing. It suggests a fear that they can't be trusted near their civilian leadership. That a GI might try and harm the secdef.
This undermines the idea that we're all on the same team, working toward a common goal
dunce, March 14th, 2012 at 9:02 a.m. (New York Times):
The secretary of defense is more afraid of our troops than the Taliban, the Taliban are not disarmed during his visit. Do they know which side Pannetta is on, do we?
Vietvet, March 14th 2012, 2:46 p.m. (CNN):
As a former U.S. Marine Captain and Vietnam veteran I say that order to disarm was appalling. What it says is that Panetta doesn't trust the soldiers and marines under his command. And, that is a terrible reflection on his leadership ability. If you can't trust the men and women who risk their lives everytime you give an order you had better find a new job
isoia, March 14th, 2012 at 8:38 a.m. (New York Times):
Directing our troops to disarm was likely done for the comfort of the Afghans present and for the cameras (and not for Secretary Panetta's safety.) If Secretary Panetta's safety was an issue, he would have cancelled the event.
A more dramatic statement could have been made if the troops filed out to disarm and didn't return. I would like to have heard my government try to explain that.
WoHooee, March 14th 2012, 2:41 PM EDT (ABC News):
Why is Leon 'the weasel' Panetta not wearing an orange jump suit and awaiting trial for TREASON? His outrageous statements last week at the Senate Arms Services committee hearing declared the US Congress a ceremonial and vestigial relic. He stated that the United States is subservient to and takes its marching orders from the United Nations and NATO! These are international bodies over which the American people have no democratic influence! Leon Panetta is not a patriot and friend of America. This is what TREASON looks like!!