A US Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who posted a video demanding accountability from military leaders over the evacuation of Afghanistan has been relieved of his duties and will leave US service, the Marines and the officer involved said on Friday.
Stuart Scheller posted his video to Facebook and LinkedIn on Thursday, the day 13 US service members, 11 of them Marines, and reportedly as many as 170 Afghans, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at the airport in Kabul.
“I have been fighting for 17 years,” said Scheller, then commander of the advanced infantry training battalion. “I am willing to throw it all away to say to my senior leaders: ‘I demand accountability.’”
Scheller said he knew someone killed in Kabul, but was making his video “because I have a growing discontent and contempt for … perceived ineptitude at the foreign policy level, and I want to specifically ask some questions to some of my senior leaders.”
Scheller said he was “willing to risk my current battalion commander’s seat, my retirement, my family stability to say some of the things that I want to say”. Doing so, he said, would give him “some moral high ground to demand the same honesty, integrity, accountability for my senior leaders”.
Scheller criticised the commandant of the Marine Corps, David Berger, for a note sent to Marines about how they might feel about the near-20-year US presence in Afghanistan.
“I’ve killed people and I seek counselling and that’s fine,” Scheller said. “There’s a time in place for that. But the reason people are so upset … is not because the Marines on the battlefield let someone down … 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.’
“We have a secretary of defense [Lloyd Austin, a former army general] that testified to Congress in May that the Afghan national security force could withstand the Taliban advance. We have [the] joint chiefs [of Staff], the commandant is a member of that, who’re supposed to advise on military policy. We have a Marine combatant commander. All of these people are supposed to advise.”
Scheller said he was “not saying we’ve got to be in Afghanistan for ever, 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’?
“I’ve got battalion commander friends right now that are posting similar things, and … wondering if all the lives were lost, if it was in vain … 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 economic-slash-corporate-slash-political-slash-higher military ranks are not holding up their end of the bargain.”
The video went viral. Less than a day later, on Friday afternoon, Scheller said on Facebook he had been “relieved for cause based on a lack of trust and confidence as of 14.30 [2.30pm] today”.
He would not comment further until he had left the Marine Corps, he said, adding: “My chain of command is doing exactly what I would do … if I were in their shoes.”