Appearing before members of Britain’s Parliament on Tuesday, a top British general disputed assertions that his forces are to blame for the security failures that led to last year’s deadly Taliban attack on a coalition airfield in southwestern Afghanistan.
Lt. Gen. David Capewell, who oversees the planning for British military operations abroad, told lawmakers that even though the Brits were in charge of security for Camp Bastion at the time of the attack, they are not responsible for the deaths of two Marines gunned down after 15 insurgents breached the base perimeter in September 2012. His testimony before Parliament’s Defence Select Committee was reported by The Independent, a British news agency.
Two senior Marine Corps officers, Maj. Gen. Charles “Mark” Gurganus and Maj. Gen. Gregg Sturdevant, were asked to retire this fall after the results of a U.S.-led investigation concluded they should have done more to ensure Bastion was safe from such an attack. U.S. officials also pointed out that the Brits’ command structure was separate from the Marines’ principal headquarters, which is based at the adjacent Camp Leatherneck. Because of this, there was not a single commander overseeing security for the whole complex.
After the U.S investigation was released in October, questions were raised in the UK as to whether any British officials also bore responsibility for the attack.
From The Independent’s report:
British officers had recommended a protective fence be built around the airfield following an earlier suicide attack. But Lt. Gen. Capewell said that a “ditch and berm to prevent vehicular access” had been approved instead, and insisted that no request for extra protection had been. When reminded that more than half the guard towers were empty on the night of the attack, Lt. Gen. Capewell replied: “He who defends everything defends nothing.” … Requests for greater protection had not been denied and the US report was wrong in stating otherwise, he insisted.
British media, particularly The Independent, have criticized the country’s Defence Ministry for not thoroughly investigating the Bastion attack, noting that two of the top officers there at the time have since been promoted. Similarly, at least one member of Parliament has expressed dismay at the military’s “apparent unwillingness to address the U.S. document’s allegations openly and transparently.”
At the hearing Tuesday, Capewell addressed those allegations by saying that although British mistakes contributed to security failures at Camp Bastion, “there is no culpable failure on the part of UK forces,” according to The Independent.