Marines in Combat Zone Told to Disarm Ahead of Sec. Defense Speech

In a highly unusual move, 200 U.S. Marines were asked to leave their weapons outside the tent where U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was set to give a speech during his trip to Afghanistan on Wednesday.  Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus told reporters at Camp Leatherneck he had given the order because the two dozen Afghan soldiers in attendance were unarmed and he did not want to treat them differently.

“You’ve got one of the most important people in the world in the room,” Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus said. “This is not a big deal.”

The military said the order was not given in response to Sunday’s shooting of 16 Afghan civilians allegedly by an American soldier.

The Marines were waiting to hear Panetta’s speech when they were suddenly told by their commander to exit the tent, leave their weapons outside, including M16 and M-4 automatic rifles and 9 mm pistols, and return unarmed.

“All I know is I was told to get the weapons out,” Sergeant Major Brandon Hall told The New York Times. Asked why, he replied, “Somebody got itchy, that’s all I’ve got to say. Somebody got itchy; we just adjust.”

Military officials in Washington told NBC News’ chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski that the decision to disarm the Marines was indeed significant.

“It sends the wrong message” that Marines can’t be trusted in the presence of the secretary of defense,” one told him.

One official described the decision as “stupid.”

Miklaszewski also told NBC’s Chuck Todd Wednesday that the move was “highly unusual” and that Marines in combat zones are always supposed to have weapons within their reach.



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