Marine Corps Rejects Reports That It ‘Surrendered’ To British Forces During Exercise

The U.K. Royal Marines that reportedly trounced a U.S. Marines Corps unit were actually fighting right alongside other American Marines.

byJoseph Trevithick|
Canada photo


The U.S. Marine Corps has refuted claims that its personnel "surrendered" or demanded a "reset" after squaring off against U.K. Royal Marines in a recent exercise in the United States. Multiple newspapers in the United Kingdom had earlier run stories about how British forces had "dominated" the Americans in the drill, but those reports downplayed or even entirely left out important context about exactly what had happened.

The exercise in question was the latest iteration of one nicknamed Green Dagger, which the Marine Corps runs in the Mojave Desert from its base at Twentynine Palms in California. Green Dagger is a multinational event, and contingents from Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates also participated in the drill, which lasted for five days between the end of September and the beginning of October. This particular Green Dagger exercise was a lead-in to a larger training event known as Marine Air Ground Task Force Warfighting Exercise 1-22 later in October, which involved the same U.S. and foreign units.

U.K. Royal Marines and U.S. Marines together during Exercise Green Dagger 21., Crown Copyright

Per The Telegraph and other British outlets, Royal Marines reportedly proved so superior to U.S. Marines in the exercise that the latter surrendered halfway through, and their simulated losses were reset to allow them to continue fighting. By the end of the drill, the British contingent was in control of 65 percent of the exercise area, 45 percent more terrain than had been under its control at the start. This is hardly the first time media outlets in the United Kingdom have courted this kind of controversy in their framing of the performance of British forces in multinational exercises. 

"During this exercise, a U.S. Marine Regiment augmented with subordinate units formed an adversary force to actively challenge and test a peer regiment of U.S. Marines," the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) at Twentynine Palms told The War Zone in a statement. "This training opportunity increased warfighting readiness and interoperability of the U.S. Marine Corps with multinational forces."

This is the particularly important immediate context that many of the initial media reports at best glossed over. The Royal Marines were attached to a larger force that included elements of the U.S. Marine Corps itself, as well as Canadian, Dutch, and Emirati troops. The British contingent reportedly worked directly alongside personnel from the Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) and the UAE's Presidential Guard, a specialized force modeled after the U.S. Marines, among other elements, for this exercise.

"This training opportunity increased warfighting readiness and interoperability of the U.S. Marine Corps with multinational forces. Exercise scenarios are adjusted as needed to assist commanders in meeting training objectives," the statement from the MCAGCC continued. "'Winners' are never determined. This exercise does not provide an opportunity to 'surrender,' 'keep score,' or 'reset.' The objective of the exercise is to heighten unit performance and increase readiness."

Statements directly from the Royal Marines and the Royal Navy regarding the exercise were certainly triumphant but were also much more nuanced and grave credit to allied and partner forces for their victories during the exercise. "Victorious! @RoyalMarines triumph in part of multinational team on Exercise Green Dagger 21," a post from 40 Commando, Royal Marines' official Twitter account read. 40 Commando formed the core of the British force in the drill.

After the initial British media stories emerged, members of the U.S. military and veterans were quick to take to social media themselves to point out the discrepancies in the framing of those reports. 

Many of them further pointed out that, even if the description of what had happened was entirely accurate, exercises are intended to evaluate units' abilities to carry out various mission sets specifically to identify potential weak areas before they might have to put those skills to the test in a real-world contingency. 

What could be reasonably described as the "resetting" of units, including those playing the role of enemy troops, does happen, especially if one side succeeds in gaining the upper hand for any number of reasons. This ensures that the drills can continue and meet the desired training objectives. Exercises impose real and artificial limits on how and when forces can engage each other and what tactics and weapons they can employ. All of this appears to have impacted what really happened recently at Green Dagger.

"The US and allied unit successfully isolated and destroyed the US pure force," George Hasseltine, CSO at investment company Xenon Partners and a Marine veteran, wrote on Twitter based on what he said he had learned from contacts at Twentynine Palms. "Seems a waste to stop so they regenerated and kept fighting over the scheduled days of the exercise."

How decisions to reboot or otherwise restructure an exercise while it's in progress are made can definitely be controversial if the intent looks to be to mask failures, but there's no indication that the Marines won't be learning valuable lessons from this experience. "The exercise was conducted in a free-play environment designed to stress commanders, derive learning points and allow participants to improve their ability to conduct offensive and defensive operations, and adapt to changes on the battlefield," MCAGCC said in its statement.

Beyond that, exercises like Green Dagger offer an environment to explore how certain tactics, techniques, and procedures, including all new concepts of operation, might hold up in an actual conflict. The Royal Marines who came to Twentynine Palms brought with them an entirely new method of doing things, known as the Littoral Response Group (LRG) concept, which their service is in the process of refining. Being presented with new ideas, and challenges, can only be valuable for all of the participants in any exercise.

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"Our success has proved the new commando force concept is more lethal and sophisticated than ever before and I am immensely proud of every member of the LRG and their vital contributions," British Lt. Col. Andy Dow, head of 40 Commando, said in a statement. "Operating alongside our partners from the USA, Netherlands, Canada, and the UAE gives us a fantastic opportunity to test, integrate and continue to push our capabilities in new and innovative directions."

"Throughout this deployment, our focus has been on integrating game-changing capabilities from across the commando force to deliver disproportional effect in the face of a free-thinking peer adversary," he added.

By all accounts, what really happened at Twentynine Palms during Green Dagger 21 seems to have been that a British force performed very well, but as part of a group that included American and other allied and partner troops, and the lessons learned will be valuable all around.

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