Hagel on Falluja: Lives weren’t wasted, Marines can be proud of their service there

(Associated Press)

This image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, shows a convoy of vehicles and fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters in Iraq’s Anbar Province. Government forces are stationed nearby as sporadic fighting breaks out in other cities. The picture painted by residents, officials and international groups suggests that both the militants and government forces are preparing for a long standoff with civilians caught in the middle. (AP Photo via militant website)

SAN ANTONIO — To say Marines, current and former, were stunned to hear that the Iraqi city of Falluja had once again fallen to black flag-waving jihadists is an understatement.

Those reports have many veterans who deployed to Al Anbar Province questioning the purpose of their mission and the brutal battle that killed more than 100 Marines in 2004.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel faced a direct question about the matter on Jan. 8 when he was visiting wounded warriors at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

What would he say to those Marines?

A Marine uses a breaching tool to prop up his helmet up above a wall in order to draw insurgent fire so that a rifleman can identify these targets and eliminate them during a security and stabilization operation conducted Nov. 9, 2004, as part of Operation Al Fajr. (Marine Corps)

A Marine uses a breaching tool to prop up his helmet up above a wall in order to draw insurgent fire so that a rifleman can identify these targets and eliminate them during a security and stabilization operation conducted Nov. 9, 2004, as part of Operation Al Fajr. (Marine Corps)

“You all did what you were asked to do,” Hagel said.  “And I think you did it as well as it could have been done.  And I think there’s some proof in the pudding on this.  I don’t agree with an analysis that lives were wasted on this at all.  I just — I don’t think that’s true.

“And I think it’s unfortunate that there are people out there saying that.  That’s just not true.  You can — everyone who served there can be very proud of that service, the contributions you’ve made.  And it is a different country today.  It has hope.  It has possibilities.  It has elections.

Hagel reminded the veterans why the U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011.

“We went in [to Iraq and Afghanistan]not to stay forever, not to be occupiers, but to give the people of each of those countries an opportunity to govern themselves, to give the people of each of those countries an opportunity to defend themselves, to support themselves.”

“In the case of Iraq we invested eight years and many lives and many wounded.  I don’t need to tell this group that.  We’re in our 13th year in Afghanistan.  We’ve invested lives there as well, and limbs.  And a lot of heartache and a lot of sadness.

“But the intent was never to stay forever and defend the country forever.  I think in Iraq’s case that after eight years we did accomplish what we set out to do.”

For Hagel, questions about the costs of war may be familiar. Hagel was wounded twice in Vietnam while he served as an Army infantry sergeant.  Years later he expressed doubts about the strategic value of that war and the way senior American officials managed it.

In an HBO documentary in 2011, years before taking on his current job, Hagel said he fully supported the Vietnam War when he was a soldier deployed there.

“I thought the purpose was right and I thought there was a more of a regional, geopolitical interest and that is why our presidents and those in charge of our national security and foreign policy had chosen to make a stand in Vietnam,” Hagel said in an HBO documentary.

However, his time in the jungle led him to question the senior leadership’s decisions.

“I saw the waste. I saw the folly you take a mountain, you take a village and you take great casualties and then you pull out 48 hours later and then [our military leaders]say, ‘Well, this really wasn’t as strategically important as we thought.’

“So you clear out and you think, as a 19-, 20-, 21-year-old, at some point it starts to dawn on you – you just sacrificed these young people. If it was strategically that important why did you just walk away?”


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  1. I can understand Afghanistan. The extension into Iraq was questionable and unnecessary. To say the Marines did as ordered, is correct. To tell them now that we had no intentions of staying, though truthful, is kind of disingenuous and a slap in the face of the Marines. Why order someone to invade, beat, train, and leave..with no other purpose in mind/?

  2. I remember the meeting all of us Marines had before the engagement that we were going to make history that we will make a major difference in the people’s lives forever, we all knew we would not be there forever and some of us will not be coming home. We all made that fight and pushed ourselves to and even passed our limits that we thought we had. It is truly sad to see that city go back into the hands of people who dont care about others. I am proud of what we did for those people and ill fight again in a heart beat so others can have a better life. Semper Fi

  3. We didn’t lose Fallujah.

    The Iraqi’s did.

    Mr. Hagel is right. There is a difference between wasting lives to take a hill only to give that hill up the next day, and taking a city, and having it lost 2 years after we left and handed over responsibility for it to it’s owning nation.

  4. Sadly our democracy is not compatible with Islam! In my book those lives were lost for nothing! Iraq is divided and lawless something that it was not before!

  5. I believe this, it is in fact the Iraqi troops fault for letting the city fall. We spent countless time and effort to make their military and Afghanistan’s army better and able to with stand these kinds of problems. Now we have to retake a city in which we have lost over 100 marines and now more lives are at stake. After we killed Bin Laden we should have left the middle east for good, for the Taliban or Al Qaida there is no surrender or peace coz that isn’t in their nature, they will never submit to westerners, they would rather die than surrender us. For which once we leave they will just take it right back again. “Marines do this and do this only for you brothers and sisters, kill all terrorists on sight, take no prisoners and show no mercy. Whether if it’s a woman with a gun under her cloak or a kid with a gun, put them all down and send them a clear message not to fuck with the US Marines again.” GIVE THEM NO QUARTER SEMPER FI

  6. I would encourage those harboring doubt about the USMC sacrifice in Fallujah to have patience as the next battle for the city takes shape. If the Shiite dominated Iraqi government and Sunni allied tribesman can take back Fallujah from the Takfiri, then the seeds of self-determination planted in Iraq will have borne some fruit.

  7. Andrew deGrandpre on

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  8. My son Christopher Tyler Warndorf a USMC. Was K.I.A in Al Anbar. He was able to prefent two suicide bombers from entering their post. He was an amazing young man. If it were not for him many more would have lost their lives that day.

  9. Marines and all other service members you all performed in a exemplary matter there in Fallujah and in all the other areas in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hold your heads high for those that were lost and for those serving past and present.

    Semper Fi


  10. As an ex-grunt, I say that the war in Iraq should have never happened. It was based on lies, greed, paranoia, and revenge. To get us grunts killed over this is not moral or just. And for a grunt to just do what he or she is told to do is an insult to human intelligence and ability to do critical and moral reasoning. I guess that means to be a “good” marine or soldier, one has to give up moral and critical reasoning and just follow orders and then feel proud about it. I don’t think so. Hagel should know better since he has come out against the wars in Vietnam and in Iraq. Now he is back tracking so he doesn’t offend anyone.

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