Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was to address a mixed U.S.-Afghan audience at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan only weeks after six American solders were killed by Afghan soldiers, and days after an American soldier allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians. That circumstance alone would ensure a tense atmosphere, but the decision to disarm the 200 Marines who planned to hear the secretary should set off further alarm bells.
The Marines were told to take their weapons out of the tent, deposit them in another location, and to return unarmed. Sgt. Maj. Brandon Hall told news outlets that he was acting on orders:
Something has come to light. … I was told to get the weapons out. All I know is I was told to get the weapons out. … Somebody got itchy, that’s all I’ve got to say. Somebody got itchy; we just adjust.
Helmand province Commander Mark Gurganus told theNew York Times:
You’ve got one of the most important people in the world in the room.
He denied any link to the alleged murder of the Afghans. On the other hand, Gurganus also said he gave the order because he didn’t want the Afghan soldiers — disarmed as they normally are under such circumstances — treated differently from the Americans:
This is not a big deal.
Oh, yes it is.