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Two U.S. generals ousted over failure to secure Afghan base

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the Marine Corps on Monday effectively fired two U.S. generals over their failure to defend a major base in Afghanistan from a deadly Taliban attack last year, in an extraordinary and rare public censure.

Two Marines were killed and eight personnel were wounded when Taliban insurgents breached what a military investigation determined was inadequate security at Camp Bastion, in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province.

A four-month investigation concluded that Major General Charles Gurganus, the top Marine commander in the region at the time, and Major General Gregg Sturdevant "did not take adequate force protection measures within the range of responses proportionate to the threat," the Marine Corps said.

Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos asked both men to retire on Monday, speaking personally with Gurganus at the Pentagon and by video-conference with Sturdevant, who was abroad, one Marine Corps official told Reuters.

Both men accepted that request, the official said. U.S. officials could not recall any similar top-level firings in the 12-year-old Afghan war over failure to properly defend a base.

"Every Marine commander must properly position his command and his Marines to both successfully accomplish the mission and defend itself in any clime and place," Amos wrote in endorsing the findings of the investigation by the U.S. military's Central Command.

"We owe this duty to the courageous Marines like Lt. Col. (Christopher) Raible and Sgt. (Bradley) Atwell, who so faithfully served our Corps" and died in the attack, he wrote.

Beyond the loss of life, the Taliban also caused millions of dollars in damage, destroying six Marine AV-8B Harrier jets during a large-scale Taliban attack including use of mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.

The Central Command review concluded that Gurganus "made an error in judgment when conducting his risk assessment of the enemy's capabilities and intentions."

Sturdevant, who commanded the aviation arm of the Marine force, also did not adequately assess security at Bastion Airfield, the Marines said.

Gurganus had been awaiting Senate confirmation to promotion to the rank of lieutenant general. Amos has recommended that nomination be rescinded and that Sturdevant receive a letter of censure from the secretary of the Navy.

Central Command declined to discuss the results of its investigation until after family were notified.

Camp Bastion is a British-run air base that is connected to the U.S.-run Camp Leatherneck, which serves as the headquarters for the NATO-led mission in southwestern Afghanistan.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Eric Beech and Eric Walsh)

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