In a video published to Facebook on Friday, one day after the bombing attacks in Kabul that killed 13 U.S. service members and hundreds of Afghan civilians, Marine battalion commander Stuart Scheller voiced his dissatisfaction with the conduct of the U.S. military’s exit from Afghanistan, rebuking the senior officers who oversaw the mission.
“I’m making this video because I have a growing discontent and contempt for my perceived ineptitude at the foreign policy level and I want to specifically ask some questions to some of my senior leaders,” he said.
Lieutenant Colonel Scheller posted on Facebook that he has been relieved of duty and will leave the Marine Corps for “cause based on lack of trust and confidence as of 14:30 today.”
“My chain of command is doing exactly what I would do…if I were in their shoes. I appreciate the opportunities AITB command provided,” he said.
Scheller said he considered the potential consequences of speaking out, since public criticism of leadership violates protocol and could result in his being demoted or discharged. He also acknowledged that the video would likely be shared widely online. As of Friday afternoon, it had racked up 15,000 likes and had been viewed 168,000 times on Facebook.
He said he knew personally one of the men who died in the blasts by the Kabul airport, which killed 12 Marines and one Navy medic, but did not share the soldier’s identity. A veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Scheller commands the Advanced Infantry Training Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, according to his bio on the U.S. Marines website. He has another personal connection to the current situation in Afghanistan, as his first assignment in 2005 was with the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, one of the units deployed to Kabul to facilitate the evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghan refugees.
“What you believe in can only be defined by what you’re willing to risk. So if I’m willing to risk my current battalion commander seat, my retirement, my family’s stability to say some of the things I want to say, I think it gives me some moral high ground to demand the same honesty, integrity, and accountability from my senior leaders,” he continued.
The outrage that enlisted Marines feel over the bloodshed and chaos of the evacuation, he said, is not directed at their fellow soldiers on the battlefield but at the senior military leaders who led the operation. None of the senior officers are “raising their hands and accepting accountability and saying ‘we messed this up’,” Scheller complained.
“We have a secretary of defense who testified to Congress in May that the Afghan National Security Force could withstand the Taliban advance. We have chairmen of the Joint Chiefs [of Staff]…were supposed to advise on military policy. We have a Marine combatant commander. All of these people were supposed to advise. 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 strategic airbase before we evacuate everyone,'” he said.
After the carnage in Kabul Thursday, Republican lawmakers demanded President Biden’s resignation or impeachment. Many Democratic legislators have agreed with their Republican colleagues that the execution of the pull-out was an unmitigated disaster, while claiming that withdrawal was generally the right choice. Some members have called for a formal investigation into the events preceding and surrounding the exit.
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy promised Thursday that President Biden would face a “reckoning” for his handling of the U.S. departure from Afghanistan but did not call for him to step down.
Later in the recording, Scheller read a letter issued to the Marine Corps that specifically advised service members battered by recent events to seek counseling, suggesting some may be struggling with mental health issues amid the crisis. While the letter insisted that the Marines’ fellow comrades in arms did not fight or die in vain, Scheller questioned whether that is true, given the botched withdrawal and haphazard evacuation that left a steep American death toll and an even steeper Afghan death toll.
“From my position, potentially all those people did die in vain if we don’t have senior leaders that own up and raise their hand and say ‘we did not do this well,” Scheller concluded.
“Without that, the … higher military ranks are not holding up their end of the bargain,” he said. “I have been fighting for 17 years. I am willing to throw it all away to say to my senior leaders, ‘I demand accountability.’”
When asked about Scheller’s video at a press briefing Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment, pointing out that the 13 deaths have been painfully felt by senior military leaders as well.