Telegraph.co.uk has the story:
Less than a week after a US staff sergeant allegedly massacred 16 civilians in Kandahar, American soldiers were banned from bringing guns into a talk by Mr Panetta at a base in Helmand province.
Around 200 troops who had gathered in a tent at Camp Leatherneck were told “something had come to light” and asked abruptly to file outside and lay down their automatic rifles and 9mm pistols.
“Somebody got itchy, that’s all I’ve got to say. Somebody got itchy – we just adjust,” said the sergeant who was told to clear the hall of weapons.
Major General Mark Gurganus later said he gave the order because Afghan troops attending the talk were unarmed and he wanted the policy to be consistent for all.
“You’ve got one of the most important people in the world in the room,” he told the New York Times, insisting that the decision was unrelated to Sunday’s killings. “This is not a big deal.”
The New York Times adds to the story:
Mr. Panetta flew from Washington to Manas, Kyrgyzstan, on his usual plane, a reconfigured Boeing 747 with “United States of America” emblazoned on the side, but as usual for security reasons, he transferred to a gray C-17 military cargo plane for the unannounced trip to Afghanistan.
In a sign of the nervousness surrounding the trip, a sergeant major abruptly told the Marines gathered to hear Mr. Panetta in a tent at Camp Leatherneck to get up, place their M-16 and M-4 automatic rifles and 9-millimeter pistols outside, and return unarmed. The sergeant major, Brandon Hall, told reporters that he was acting on orders.
“All I know is I was told to get the weapons out,” he said. Asked why, he replied: “Somebody got itchy — that’s all I’ve got to say. Somebody got itchy. We just adjust.”
Normally, American forces in Afghanistan keep their weapons when the defense secretary visits and speaks to them. The Afghans in the tent had not been armed to begin with, as is typical.
Later, American officials said that the top military official in Helmand, Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus, had decided on Tuesday that no one would be armed while Mr. Panetta spoke, but that word had not reached those in charge in the tent until shortly before Mr. Panetta was due to arrive.
General Gurganus told reporters later that he had wanted a consistent policy for everyone in the tent, and that “I wanted to have the Marines look just like their Afghan partners,” noting, “You’ve got one of the most important people in the world in the room.” He insisted that his decision had had nothing to do with the massacre; later, defense officials said the decision had had nothing to do with the truck at the airfield.
Ah, yes…the truck at the airfield…
A tense visit to Afghanistan by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta got off to an alarming start on Wednesday when a stolen pickup truck sped onto a ramp alongside a runway at a British military airfield and crashed into a ditch as Mr. Panetta’s plane was landing.
Mr. Panetta was not hurt, but Pentagon officials said the Afghan driver emerged from the vehicle in flames.
No explosives were found on the driver, a civilian, or in the truck, the officials said, and the Pentagon was not immediately considering the episode an attack on Mr. Panetta. But it reinforced the lack of security in Afghanistan at the beginning of his two-day visit, the first by a senior member of the Obama administration since an American soldier reportedly killed 16 Afghan civilians, mostly children and women, in Kandahar Province. The visit had been planned months ago, but took on new urgency after the Sunday massacre.
Mr. Panetta, like President Obama, has denounced the deaths and vowed to bring the killer to justice, a message he was to deliver in person to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. The killings have further clouded already strained Afghan-American relations. On Wednesday, an American official said the suspect had been moved out of Afghanistan. That is likely to further anger Afghans, who called for him to be tried in their country.
What in the Wide, Wide World of Sports is a’goin’ on here?
Yes, what that American soldier purportedly did what horrible and he should be punished. However, not in an Afghanistan Kangaroo Court, but in an American Military Tribunal, where justice will be served.
Secondly, Secretary Panetta, I don’t care if you have been a Political Administrator/Operative all of your life. These are the men and women who are fighting and dying at your and your boss’ command. They do not deserve the distrust and disrespect you showed them by disarming them during your speech.
They deserve the same loyalty and devotion from you, that they show America.
Addendum: Last night, a couple of retired soldiers related on a Conservative website, that the only time that they had previously been disarmed when a “bigwig” visited, was for Hillary Clinton.
Remind me again…what previous administration did Secretary of Defense Panetta work for?