Yesterday a lone ISIS-K suicide bomber attacked Abbey Gate, a major security check-point at Afghanistan's HKIA Airport. That particular gate is a crowded, walled-in choke-point where thousands have desperately waited & tireless U.S. military members worked day & night assisting them under high threat levels & extremely chaotic conditions. The blast was catastrophic.
Reports are saying at least 169 Afghans were killed, and along with them a devastating 13 U.S. service members; one Navy Corpsman, one still not confirmed, and ten of them Marines.
The troops dealing with the horrific aftermath, including hundreds more wounded, & still also having to continue the mission & work the gates... The families & loved ones receiving the most Earth-shattering news of their entire lives... Our hearts break for all of them a thousand times over.
My own mind can't form the words that would do any of it justice, but there is a feeling bubbling up among the ranks at the end of twenty years of this war, and especially after this nightmarish incident, that many of our nation's leaders need to stop finger-pointing, grow a spine, and take accountability. Among the most powerful of these testimonies are from active duty troops, as they stand to lose their entire livelihoods doing so.
Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller is among them, and his words are going viral as they resonate with so many in the military community & beyond:
My name is Lt. Col. Stu Scheller, United States Marine Corps and the commander for Advanced Infantry Training Battalion.
I've been in the Marine Infantry for 17 years. Started my tour with Victor 1/8, the current unit that's doing perimeter security, dealing with the mess that's going on out there. You can see open source reporting that there was an explosion and people were killed. I know through my inside channels that one of those people that were killed was someone that I have a personal relationship with. I won't go into more detail because the families are still being notified.
Not making this video because, you know, it's potentially an emotional time. I'm making it because I have a growing discontent and contempt for my perceived ineptitude at the foreign policy level, and I specifically have some questions for my senior leaders. And I'll say, as a person who's not at 20 years, I feel like I have a lot to lose.
If you play chess you can only see two to three moves out.. too many variables I thought through... "If I post this video, what might happen to me if the video picks up traction. If I have the courage to post it?" But I think what you believe in can only be defined by what you're willing to risk. So if I'm willing to risk my Battalion Commander seat, my retirement, my family stability to say some of the things that I want to say, I think it gives me some moral high ground to demand the same integrity & accountability from my senior leaders.
So I want to start with... we'll just use the Marine Corps... my... we'll stick with the Marine Corps. So in the current fallout of Afghanistan, a lot of Marines were posting on social media - and in response to that the Commandant published a letter, and I'm gonna read from it. It was dated 18 August, so only a week ago. So Commandant, sir, you wrote,
"Some of you may be struggling with a simple question, 'Was it all worth it?' We want you to know that your service is meaningful, powerful, important. The Marine to your left, the Marine to your right - you never let them down."
Then you go on to say that, you know, if you're struggling you should seek counseling, which... you know I get it. People have killed people. I've killed people, and I seek counseling. Um, and that's fine. There's a time and a place for that.
But the reason they're so upset on social media right now is not because the Marine on the battlefield let someone down. That service member always rose to the occasion, doing extraordinary things. People are upset because their senior leaders let them down and none of them are raising their hands and accepting accountability saying, "We messed this up".
If an 0-5 Battalion Commander has the simplest live-fire incident, or an EO complaint, boom - fired. But we have a Secretary of Defense that testified in Congress in May that the Afghan National Security Force could withstand the Taliban advance. We have Chairmans of the Joint Chiefs - which the Commandant is a member of that - to advise on military policy, we have a Marine Combatant Commander... all of these people are supposed to advise.
And I'm not saying 'stay 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 air base, before we evacuate everyone'.' Did anyone do that? And when you didn't think to do that, did anyone raise their hand and say, 'We completely messed this up'. I've got Battalion Commander friends right now posting similar things and they're saying, wondering if all the lives that were lost were in vain. All those people that we lost over the last 20 years...
And [referencing the Commandant's letter again] he goes on to say we're all part of a chain and though every link may not be tested, the strength of the chain is only as strong each link, something like that. And what I'll say is - and 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 in the end."
Without that we just keep repeating the same mistakes.. this amalgamation of the economics/corporate/political/higher military ranks are not holding up their end of the bargain. 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 hit the heart of it for me during a time when I've found myself looking at the end results & asking, "My God, what was the point of this all?". I never asked that in a way that denigrated what the Marines or any other troops on the ground did... Because he's right - they never let anyone down. Ever. They always rose to the occasion & did what was asked of them, no matter the cost. And the cost has been enormous.
It was more a question stemmed from a feeling of extreme disillusionment at our leadership across the board throughout this war, and right up into this administration. Twenty years of Groundhog Day. Of the same mistakes over & over. Of seeing one thing firsthand on the ground & watching military officials say something totally different to the media. "We're turning a corner. Just a few more years. Huge advances." My response to that, according to my old Afghanistan journals, "Uh, hi, it's 2010, I'm dumb 23 year old Lance Corporal Kate and I can tell you with 100% confidence that no we're not. This is a fucking quagmire. Why aren't all the higher ups admitting this?". Really, ask pretty much any troop who was there & most will have some form of, "Oh yeah, it was super messed up," no matter what year they were deployed.
So many chances to stand up and say, 'Enough'. Year after year with so much time to say, 'No, that is not how we should do this and I'm standing firm on that'. Two decades to plan for the end in a way that makes sense & protects our Afghan allies & troops the best... It did not have to be this way. Naively, I just don't understand it. At the lowest level a troop loses a small piece of gear & gets held accountable to a ridiculous level. What happens when you lose so much more than that? I'm glad people like the Lt. Col. are asking and I'm in awe at the bravery of it.
He kept it at the Marine Corps level, but as politicians on both sides continue to point fingers for clout & make money off the war while not giving a single actual fuck about the troops & the losses besides for show, someone (many someone's) needs to stand up and be a real leader. Hoping for the best for Lt. Col. Scheller, as I'm sure this has pissed A LOT of people off at the top. (If you're not military, what he's done is a biiiig deal.) Despite the personal risk he's demanding accountability, and as 13 of our nation's bravest make their way home one last time, we should do the same. We must learn something from this.
My heart goes out to the families of the fallen and everyone continuing to put their lives on the line in the aftermath. People like you are what make this country great.
*Update - cannot confirm but according to a DM from a former Marine of his, "It's being said on Facebook groups that he [Scheller] has already been relieved of command."