WASHINGTON -- A decorated Marine Corps general said, "It's fun to shoot some people" and poked fun at the manhood of Afghans as he described the wars US troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His boss, the commandant of the Marine Corps, said yesterday that the comments reflected "the unfortunate and harsh realities of war" but that the general has been asked to watch his words in public.
Lieutenant General James N. Mattis, a career infantry officer who is now in charge of developing better ways to train and equip Marines, made the comments Tuesday while speaking to a forum in San Diego.
According to an audio recording, he said, "Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot . . . It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you. I like brawling."
He added, "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
His comments were met with laughter and applause from the audience. Mattis was speaking during a panel discussion hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, a spokeswoman for the general said.
Yesterday, General Mike Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, issued a statement saying, "Lieutenant General Mattis often speaks with a great deal of candor. I have counseled him concerning his remarks and he agrees he should have chosen his words more carefully."
Hagee also said, "While I understand that some people may take issue with the comments made by him, I also know he intended to reflect the unfortunate and harsh realities of war."
Among Marines, Mattis is regarded as a fighting general and an expert in the art of warfare. Among his decorations are the Bronze Star with a combat distinguishing device and a combat action ribbon, awarded for close-quarters fighting.
He is currently the commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va., and deputy commandant for combat development.
Marine General Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was up to Mattis to explain his own comments, but he added, "All of us who are leaders have a responsibility in our words and our actions to provide the right example all the time for those who look to us for leadership."
Pace spoke at a Pentagon news conference. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he had not read Mattis's words and deferred to Pace.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties group, called on the Pentagon to discipline Mattis for the remarks.
"We do not need generals who treat the grim business of war as a sporting event," said the council's executive director, Nihad Awad. "These disturbing remarks are indicative of an apparent indifference to the value of human life."
Pace and Hagee praised the general's service.
"His actions and those of his troops clearly show that he understands the value of proper leadership and the value of human life," Pace said.
Hagee called Mattis "one of this country's bravest and most experienced military leaders," and said he was confident he would continue to serve with distinction.
Mattis's comments were reported by KNSD-TV in San Diego, and the audio recording was posted on its website www.nbcsandiego.com.
As a lieutenant colonel, Mattis led an assault battalion into Kuwait during the first war with Iraq. He commanded troops during the war in Afghanistan, and during the second war in Iraq, he commanded the First Marine Division during the invasion and also when the unit returned for counterinsurgency operations.