A lieutenant colonel in the US Marine Corps said he was relieved of duty after voicing frustration with American leaders for the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, insisting officials take responsibility for their failures.
In a video posted to his Facebook account on Thursday night, Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller unloaded on the country’s military and political leaders for their repeated blunders while exiting America’s longest war, saying that “none of them are raising their hands and accepting accountability or saying ‘We messed this up.’”
“We have a secretary of defense that testified in Congress in May that the Afghan national security force could withstand the Taliban advance,” he said, citing a prediction that proved radically mistaken after the militants overran all of Afghanistan in a matter of days earlier this month.
I want to say this very strongly. I have been fighting for 17 years. I am willing to throw it all away to say to my senior leaders: I demand accountability
Scheller argued that the evacuation from Bagram air base – once the US’ largest military installation in Afghanistan – was a serious error, noting that no high-level officials have acknowledged the premature pull-out.
“I’m not saying we’ve got to be in Afghanistan forever, but I am saying: Did any of you throw your rank on the table and say ‘Hey, it’s a bad idea to evacuate Bagram Airfield, a strategic airbase, before we evacuate everyone’? Did anyone do that?”
However, less than 24 hours after the video went live – racking up tens of thousands of shares on Facebook alone while going viral on other platforms – Scheller said the clip landed him in hot water, and that he had been “relieved for cause based on a lack of trust and confidence.”
“My chain of command is doing exactly what I would do… if I were in their shoes,” he wrote in a follow-up post, adding “I appreciate the opportunities AITB [Advanced Infantry Training Battalion] command provided.”
Commenting on the situation further in yet another Facebook missive, Scheller said he was contacted by fellow Marines who asked him to remove the post. “We all agree with you Stu, but nothing will change, and it will come at a huge personal cost to you,” he said, paraphrasing what colleagues said.
Obviously I didn’t take it down. Now that I’ve had time to process… I’ll offer this… we can’t ALL be wrong. If you all agree… then step up. They only have the power because we allow it. What if we all demanded accountability?
The Marine’s punishment triggered outrage on social media, including among veterans’ groups, with critics noting that Scheller is so far the “only person who’s been fired” since the fall of Kabul to Taliban fighters, despite the hasty and poorly planned US evacuation effort.
“Loss of confidence in him? For having a brain?” asked one bewildered observer.
Scheller’s video was posted just hours after an Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) suicide bomb erupted outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, killing scores of Afghan civilians, including 28 Taliban members, two British nationals, and 13 American soldiers. The attack prompted criticism of the Joe Biden administration and his military planners – who had already taken heat over the disorderly evacuations – with the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board accusing the president of attempting to “duck responsibility” in the wake of the bombing.
On Friday evening, the Pentagon said it carried out a retaliatory drone strike against the Afghan Islamic State affiliate known as ISIS-K, claiming to have killed one militant planner. It is yet unclear if the alleged ISIS member had any ties to Thursday’s suicide bombing, however.