A sitting Marine battalion commander was fired Friday after he slammed the “ineptitude” of U.S. military leadership over the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal, saying he was willing to risk losing his 17-year career and future retirement pension in order to “demand accountability” from top military brass.
Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller said in a Facebook post that he was relieved for cause after he posted a video Thursday saying military leadership let service members down during the bungled Afghanistan withdrawal. His video post came after a terrorist attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Thursday that killed 13 U.S. service members, including someone with whom Scheller had a close relationship.
“I have been relieved for caused based on a lack of trust and confidence,” Scheller wrote.
In his Thursday video post, Scheller said that military leadership should take responsibility for the situation in Afghanistan.
“The reason people are 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 and done extraordinary things,” Scheller said. “People are upset because their senior leaders let them down and none of them are raising their hands and accepting accountability or saying, ‘We messed this up.'”
The scathing public rebuke is a sign of the growing anger among U.S. service members over the pullout and evacuation effort, which has led to a Taliban takeover of the country, left departing Americans vulnerable to deadly terrorist attacks, and stranded thousands of at-risk Afghan military allies.
“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,” said Scheller.
On Aug. 18, Gen. David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps., issued a public letter in an attempt to reassure Marines who were venting their frustration on social media, telling them that their service was “meaningful, powerful, and important.”
Scheller said the letter missed the point and failed to address the actual concerns of his fellow Marines.
He argued that the withdrawal was a major policy failure from the highest levels of military leadership, calling out Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and the joint chiefs of staff.
“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? And when you didn’t think to do that, did anyone raise their hand and say, ‘We completely messed this up’?” asked Scheller.
Scheller acknowledged that his critique would almost certainly cost him his job three years before he would qualify for a retirement pension.
“I thought through, if I post this video, what might happen to me—especially if the video picks up traction, if I have the courage to post it,” Scheller said. “But I think what you believe in can only be defined by what you’re willing to risk. If I’m willing to risk my current battalion 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.”
Update 4:12 p.m.: This post has been updated to reflect that the Marine Corps relieved Scheller of his duty.