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    Cool Sacked

    Issue Date: October 11, 2004

    His junior Marines thought Lt. Col. Asad ‘Genghis’ Khan was their best battalion commander ever. His boss disagreed.

    By C. Mark Brinkley
    Times staff writer

    CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — It seemed as if the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit’s deployment to Afghanistan was a resounding success.
    First came the deepest inland push on record for a MEU, almost 500 miles from the sea to the remote region of Tarin Kowt. A rugged, austere area 80 miles north of Kandahar, the region is known as a haven for drug and arms traffickers and as the homeland of the ousted Taliban regime.

    Then, more than 60,000 Afghan citizens were registered to vote in the Oct. 9 elections. A dozen operations, including a handful of major engagements, resulted in more than 100 dead Taliban fighters.

    Wells were dug, and roads were paved. The unit returned to the waiting arms of friends and family Sept. 15, triumphant after seven months overseas.

    If anyone suspected that one of the unit’s top officers would be fired nine days later, no one showed it.

    But Sept. 24, less than two weeks after the homecoming, Lt. Col. Asad “Genghis” Khan, 44, the popular commander of Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, was relieved of command during an administrative session with Col. Kenneth Frank McKenzie Jr., the 22nd MEU’s commander.

    Now, the deployment considered a shining success by many is shrouded in secrets, as troops still on post-deployment leave struggle to understand what happened to their beloved commander.

    Camp Lejeune officials offered few details about the firing, generally a killing blow in the Corps likely to end Khan’s rise through the ranks.

    “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Lieutenant Colonel Khan,” McKenzie said Oct. 1. “But I lost confidence in his ability to lead.”

    Sources said the firing was the result of a strict command climate, where a demanding Khan would berate his officers and senior enlisted Marines for not living up to his exacting standards. Some said Khan is taking the fall for an embarrassed command accused of war-mongering and prisoner abuse in the foreign press.

    Reached at home Sept. 30, Khan said the move was not the result of any moral or legal issues, but simply an administrative action caused by a “combination of events over time.”

    The move came just three weeks before the various elements of BLT 1/6 were scheduled to leave operational control of the 22nd MEU on Oct. 15. Khan would have returned with his infantry battalion to 6th Marine Regiment, while artillery and other reinforcements would have returned to their parent commands.

    The battalion’s return to regimental control will occur as planned, but Khan will not regain command, Marine officials said.

    Khan declined to offer specifics on the events that led to the firing, offering only that McKenzie “lost confidence” in him. Marine officials said the action stemmed from the deployment, not anything that happened after the return to Camp Lejeune.

    Khan said he would not have made the same decision as McKenzie if their roles were reversed, but that he had no regrets.

    “I’m not embarrassed by it,” Khan said. “Could it have ended in other circumstances, with a change of command? Certainly. But this was the MEU commander’s prerogative, and he’s entitled to it.”

    Troubled deployment

    When the roughly 2,000 Marines and sailors of the 22nd MEU left Camp Lejeune on Feb. 18, most expected to see combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    Even before they shipped out, the unit had problems.

    A supply captain was relieved for poor performance, and a reconnaissance sergeant was reassigned because of undisclosed conduct issues.

    A gunnery sergeant with MEU Service Support Group 22 was reassigned to other duties, Marine officials said, but specifics on the move were not released.

    And the major in charge of the Maritime Special Purpose Force platoon was hospitalized with an undisclosed medical condition and could not make the deployment, members of the MEU said.

    Once deployed, the MEU was dispatched in mid-March to a remote region of Afghanistan. Unlike many of their comrades in Iraq, the troops had no hot food or showers and little access to the Internet.

    Satellite telephones were available for the Marines to make 15-minute phone calls home, but the wait was often two or three days. Morale rose and sank, many Marines said during their homecoming celebration.

    A low point came with the loss of a fellow Marine. Cpl. Ronald R. Payne, one of Khan’s men, was killed May 7 during a clash with Taliban fighters. The unit’s only fatality, Payne was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with combat “V” device during a memorial ceremony after the unit returned home.

    In June, just weeks after Payne’s death, allegations surfaced of Khan’s verbal and physical abuse of officers and senior enlisted Marines. A preliminary inquiry was conducted, a senior Marine official said, and Khan was counseled to stop his behavior.

    The official said Khan was not relieved at the time because of his successes in battle.

    “A lot of Marines lived because of him,” that senior Marine official said. Of the 1,197 Marines who deployed under Khan’s command, 1,196 returned alive.

    Then, one of Khan’s captains, an unnamed artillery battery commander, was relieved after a news report aired Aug. 11 by the Australian news program SBS Dateline showed footage of the captain cursing at junior enlisted Marines and bumping the chest of one.

    An SBS Dateline transcript of the captain’s speech — so riddled with vulgarities that it cannot be reprinted — suggests that his motivation was to keep the Marines vigilant as the end of the Afghanistan deployment neared. The MEU was expected to spend 90 days in country, but an extension kept it in the fight through July.

    One Marine from the MEU said many believed the captain’s firing came as a response to peer pressure from commanders back home who were embarrassed by the images.

    Few thought the captain’s relief was warranted, the Marine said.

    The Marine said Khan was loved by his troops but treated with various degrees of apprehension by his officers and senior enlisted men. The commander was known for losing his temper with them if their performance slacked, at times yelling at them in the field, according to the Marine and others who know Khan.

    Khan is also quoted in the SBS Dateline transcript, though his comments are of a more thoughtful nature, discussing the successes Marines were seeing in getting the local villagers to share useful information and intelligence.

    However, the broadcast made other damaging accusations. After leaving the Marines, the reporter conducted candid discussions with local residents.

    They recounted stories of abuse at the hands of Marines, of beatings and inappropriate touching of the genitals, according to the transcript.

    The allegations, which came just weeks before the 22nd MEU was set to depart for home, were investigated but unsubstantiated, Marines from the MEU said. The accusations of prisoners being stripped naked and fondled stemmed from medical checkups, they said.

    Officials familiar with the claims said the MEU established a detention facility to search, question and hold detainees. One detainee made claims of abuse, but a team from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service that traveled to Afghanistan was unable to substantiate the accusations.

    A second investigation

    After the show aired, McKenzie ordered a more serious Judge Advocate General Manual investigation into Khan’s behavior. This investigation was completed as the unit crossed the Atlantic on the ride home and helped form the basis for his decision to relieve Khan.


  2. #2
    The JAG Manual investigation was forwarded to Lt. Gen. James Amos, the II Marine Expeditionary Force commander, where it is awaiting final disposition, Marine officials said. The results have not been released.

    “I think we had a very successful deployment. I’m proud of BLT 1/6,” McKenzie said. “But success in combat doesn’t come at any cost.”

    Khan’s senior enlisted Marines and officers again were asked about his conduct, while the junior Marines were excluded from the investigation into the “command climate.”

    “The whole thing is bogus, what happened to him,” said one corporal with BLT 1/6. “He never put a hand on anyone.”

    The corporal said he and other junior Marines are hurt by the firing and feel like the “whining” of some officers and senior enlisted Marines got their beloved commander fired.

    “He’s gonna let you know if you’re messed up,” the corporal said. “But he’ll do it right away.”

    The corporal said many at the lower levels feel betrayed because they were not asked for input.

    “The only reason they did it to him was because the BLT took most of the credit,” the corporal said. “In the lower enlisted, everybody thinks Colonel McKenzie did it because he wants to pick up general and he was embarrassed.

    “Lt. Col. Khan was the best battalion commander we’ve ever had.”

    A rising star

    By most accounts, Khan was one of the Corps’ up-and-coming officers.

    Born in Pakistan, Khan and his family immigrated to Connecticut in 1972, moving through Afghanistan. Khan, a Muslim, served in Pakistan and Afghanistan during earlier phases of Operation Enduring Freedom as a Foreign Area Officer.

    While there, Khan worked for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, helping orchestrate the United States’ efforts in the region. Khan was nominated for a Bronze Star with combat “V” for his work, though the award was never approved.

    His tour as a battalion commander seemed destined for success as well. Commanding troops in combat carries a lot of weight within the Corps, especially among boards vetting Marines for promotion or command.

    Likewise, relief of command can be devastating.

    “It’s a career ender, sure,” said Khan, who has been moved to a position on the 2nd Marine Division staff. “You just move on.”

    Khan said he still considers the mission to Afghanistan a success.

    “I could not be prouder of the Marines and sailors of BLT 1/6,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “In Afghanistan, they fought bravely and acquitted themselves with great honor — their results speak for themselves.

    “Most of my Marines did not shower for three months and very rarely did they eat hot meals. They traveled over 3,000 miles in finding, fixing and finishing the enemy. In the words of Lieutenant General [David] Barno, the senior commander in Afghanistan, our Marines and sailors achieved more success than any other unit since the war began. We fought the enemy in the most inhospitable terrain, and the enemy will remember BLT 1/6 for a long time to come.”

    Marine officials said there is no formal appeals process for the administrative decision, although Khan could request mast to Amos in the hope that the general will intervene.

    Some observers hope Khan doesn’t go down without a fight, saying that the whole issue stems from the embarrassment the command suffered and a conflict of personalities at the top. Rather than giving Khan a negative fitness report or pushing for a change of command, they say McKenzie fired him while he had the chance.

    “There has been a grave injustice done here in his relief,” said a retired Marine colonel familiar with the situation. “I have heard what the allegations were about command climate and his alleged handling of subordinates. I can tell you, if you have ever been in combat, there is a time and place to be gruff.

    “If Asad was gruff with his subordinates, it was to keep them alive and accomplish the mission.”

    McKenzie said he appreciates the situation the junior Marines find themselves in.

    “There is almost certainly a perception that they don’t know what happened,” McKenzie said. “And they don’t know what happened.”

    However, the corporal was unmoved by McKenzie’s comments.

    “The Marine NCOs want to be heard, but during this investigation we have not been heard at all,” he said. “So give us a voice, and let us run the battalion as we should. He [Khan] gave us the skills and opportunity.”

    He said Khan is the kind of officer every Marine wants, the kind who leads the charge up the hill — which he did in a number of missions overseas.

    “He’s a man of action,” the corporal said. “He just doesn’t freakin’ sit there on his hands. Maybe that’s the problem.”

    BLT 1/6 is under the command of Maj. Edward T. DeWald, a 1990 graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., and Khan’s former battalion executive officer.

    Khan said he has no plans to request mast or put in retirement papers and hopes his skills will be of use to the Marine Corps.

    “I trust that our senior leadership will resolve this matter in a manner that allows me to continue using my unique background and skills in serving our country in fighting against those that seek to do us harm.”

    C. Mark Brinkley is the Jacksonville, N.C., bureau chief for Marine Corps Times. He can be reached at (910) 455-8354 or via e-mail at


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