A statement from the Commandant General Royal Marines released to the Corps Family at his request.
Commandant General Royal Marines’ message to the Corps – Progress since the Marine A Incident
It is over 10 years since the Marine A incident, and I wanted to update you on what we have learned to better prepare for the future. Although this journey continues to be, at times, painful for some parts of the Corps – and so a fracture in our moral cohesion – we have come a long way. Learning from these events has had its own human impacts, and mistakes were made – this is perhaps inevitable in the delivery of important change in any organisation.
To be clear, the illegal killing of an injured Taliban insurgent in Afghanistan in 2011 by a then sergeant in the Royal Marines was truly shocking and appalling. This was a war crime, irreconcilable with the values which underpin our Corps’ ethos. To reduce the chances of something like it happening again, the Royal Navy commissioned an internal review, called Operation Telemeter. The Telemeter report made many recommendations which have either been implemented in full or, where they are enduring in nature, are managed as ‘business as usual’, a term which, rather than underplaying the importance attached to these issues, reflects that this is now core regimental business.
Although learning from the Marine A incident is entrenched in Royal Marines training, our current approach has advanced significantly beyond only implementing the Telemeter recommendations. Now we are focused on preparing for the challenges of conducting commando operations in the contemporary operating environment. The Commando Force concept, very familiar to many of you, envisages small teams of mainly Royal Marines, commanded by non-commissioned officers and junior officers, deployed at range from their chain of command in operational contexts defined by uncertainty and ambiguity. Whilst this is not unprecedented, preparing our marines to deal with extreme stress, to make good decisions in difficult circumstances and to recognise when things are going wrong is something we are taking extremely seriously.
So, what, specifically, are we doing? Working with the Royal Navy and academia, we have developed the following:
- Scalable training packages for every rank, from recruits and young officers through to commanding officers and regimental sergeant majors, to educate marines in ethical leadership.
- A set of case studies, including examples from Operation Herrick 14 and the Marine A incident, for use at unit level. These have been developed with leading academics and are under regular peer review.
- The new Commando Leadership Handbook, also with a Marine A case study, situating ethical leadership as a core part of our approach.
- A range of advisory functions, from confidential consultations to formal command climate assessments, to assure that the culture in Royal Marines units is aligned with our values and standards.
- Bespoke ethical leadership symposia tailored for specific user requirements.
- Periodic independent expert reviews of Royal Marines culture and our approach to ethics and leadership. The most recent, conducted by Professor Anthony King, the Chair of War Studies at the University of Warwick, reported in December 2021, concluding: “The Corps has instituted an impressive set of processes to inculcate ethical leadership”.
All of this is overseen by the Royal Marines Ethics Group (RMEG), chaired by the 1* Deputy Commandant General Royal Marines, which, at present, convenes monthly to assure the delivery of all aspects of our ethics programme. The RMEG also collates best practice from across Defence, the other public services, the civilian sector, academia and international examples to ensure that what we deliver for our marines continues to evolve and remains at the vanguard of contemporary understanding.
Some have questioned why the Telemeter report has not been made available for public scrutiny. Put simply, this was an internal review to identify lessons. Those who contributed to it did so knowing they were not under scrutiny, allowing them to speak candidly. On reflection, undertaking the review in this way was critical to ensuring we learnt as much as we have. Publishing the report now would breach these assurances. Nevertheless, as I have explained above, pursuing the Telemeter report’s final recommendations, which are publicly available, has been and remains a critical part of our learning journey.
No one is blind to the fact that the Marine A incident remains an emotive topic, especially for those who may be dealing with the mental health impacts of their operational service. It is important, therefore, that we, as a Corps family, come together. There is no room for complacency, but we can be confident that what we have put in place since Telemeter will prepare our people as best as we can to prevail on operations, irrespective of the circumstances.
I hope this letter offers reassurance to some and closure to others. As I said in my video about the withdrawal from Afghanistan last August, if this triggers painful memories please reach out. Serving commando or veteran, help is always available to us – once a marine, always a marine.
Lieutenant General Rob Magowan CB CBE
Commandant General Royal Marines