The British media has been in a frenzy over the last couple of days. That by itself isn’t necessarily news. The British media also has a reputation of being kind of brutal or easy to wind up. Even more so than the American media. Just ask Megan Markle and Prince Harry. This time, however, Megan isn’t the American they are fired up about. It’s the U.S. Marine Corps that has them in quite the tizzy.
On Wednesday, November 3, the Daily Telegraph reported the results of a five-day joint training exercise that took place last week in the California desert. The exercise, titled “Green Dagger,” involved the military of several allied nations: The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, and the Netherlands. Several other media outlets — mostly British — picked up the story, and ran with it.
According to the reporting from the Telegraph, based on a report from the British Ministry of Defense, during the five-day exercise the British Royal Marine Commandos “dominated” the U.S. Marines. It was reported that the U.S. Marines asked for a “reset” less than halfway through the exercise. “Reset” meaning, the exercise was going so badly for the U.S. Marines, they asked to start the exercise over again. Blimey! Is that true?
In a massive PR play, with Twitter and social media lighting up the internet, the British MoD made some very bold statements and some very interesting claims. The British media spread those claims and took a lot of liberty with those statements, as well.
Hold your tea and biscuits for a moment, is any of this true? Did the Royal Marines compel the U.S. Marines to “surrender?’
The Media Coverage of Exercise Green Dagger
The majority of the early information shared in the media about exercise Green Dagger primarily comes from the statement from the British MoD to The Telegraph. Meaning, most of the media outlets running the story, are sharing the same information published by The Telegraph. They are mostly sharing the same details over and over. SOFREP has now learned that the majority of those details are inaccurate and incorrect.
The headline from The Telegraph article reads, “Royal Marines force U.S. troops to surrender just days into a training exercise.” The subhead continues with “Elite commandos outperformed their U.S. counterparts when trialling a new battle structure in California.”
The headline from Sky News says, “Royal Marines Commandos force U.S. Marine Corps troops to surrender in training exercise.”
Insider was a bit more reserved in their coverage but still left the impression it was the Royal Marines pitted against the U.S. Marines, “The Royal Navy told Insider that the victory was decisive.” Also according to Insider, referencing The Telegraph, “The paper reported the group of Royal Marines employed new tactics that helped them get the better of the American troops, who were on home soil.”
Based on just the headlines alone, then yes, it certainly sounds like it was a decisive battle. Words like “surrender,” “victory,” “winner,” “reset,” and “decisive,” make it all sound pretty clear. Taken at face value, it sounds surprising, and difficult to challenge that the Brits beat the U.S. Marines.
The U.S. Marines said very little about the training exercise initially. Which, of course, led to speculation they were probably, understandably, quite embarrassed about it. Insider also reached out to the USMC for comment. They did not receive a response by publication time for their article.
However, the U.S. Marines did release a statement on Thursday afternoon, November 4. After two days of hype by the British media, the response from the U.S. Marine Corps starts to tell a different story.
The USMC’s Statement
As SOFREP analyzed these stories and the situation surrounding the details of what the British media were reporting, we had some questions. We reached out to the Marine Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California, where the exercise was held. The Marine Air-Ground Task Force Training Command conducted exercise Green Dagger. They got back to us very quickly.
Here is the entirety of their statement:
“From October 25-30, 2021, U.S. Marines along with units from the U.S Armed Forces, Great Britain, Netherlands, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates participated in Marine Air-Ground Task Force Warfighting Exercise 1-22. 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.
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. 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. “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.
The U.S. Marine Corps regularly conducts bilateral training with Allied and Partner Nation military forces aboard the Combat Center. Such exercises allow our combined forces to become familiar with each other’s tactics, procedures, and command structures, which increases our ability to operate effectively with each other in real-world scenarios. We understand future conflict will require alignment with our allies and partners. It is important that we continue to train with them.”
SOFREP Analysis, Round I
Initially, the SOFREP story we were preparing about these reports and the training exercise, had two points:
One, if the Brits won, good for them. Like the USMC statement above, we want our Allies and Partner Nations to be strong, capable, and competent. We need to know how to work together. If the Brits “beat” the USMC in a training exercise, it’s obviously a good PR move. However, the PR opportunity became the story — the message became its own PR — more than the training exercise itself.
Second, if the U.S. Marines “lost,” then why frame that as a bad thing? Everyone can’t always win, and there is no point in training exercises that are not realistic, challenging, or against a peer adversary. The lesson would be valuable for the U.S. Marines, as the British military is one of the finest fighting forces in the world. As the U.S. Military is pivoting from 20 years of counter-insurgency operations, it’s time to focus on threats from peer and near-peer adversaries. Any result would be a valuable, and worthwhile training experience.
With all of that said, we still had questions. We were left with the feeling that the details didn’t add up and were noticeably vague. The issue wasn’t that fellow Americans lost an exercise. The issue was there simply seemed like there was more to the story. Namely, could a commando unit take on an entire Infantry regiment and win? Even more, there were so many other units on the side of the British Royal Marines, the media stories, and the British MOoD statements, seemed like something was missing, at the least.
When the USMC finally released their statement, our intuition about the details not adding, up proved to be correct.
The Details of Exercise Green Dagger
In the interests of easing tensions between the U.S. and the U.K. amid social media mutterings of, “Of course you know, this means WAR!” we reached out to the Public Affairs Office for the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Training Command. We still had additional questions, as we felt like key details were still missing. In the end, our goal is accuracy. It’s worth getting it right.
SOFREP asked some very direct questions to Captain Zachary Colvin, the Communications and Strategy Director, for the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command, and Ms. Erin Adams, MCAGCC Government, and External Affairs Director, both at Twentynine Palms. From my email correspondence with Captain Colvin and Ms. Adams, and my phone call with both of them at the same time, these are the accurate details about this exercise and the “outcome.” These details clarify and shed new light on the statements made by the British MoD, and the British media.
Captain Colvin and Ms. Adams both stated that exercise Green Dagger pitted two U.S. Marine Corps regiments against one another: the 3rd Marine Regiment, and the 7th Marine Regiment. The 3rd Marine Regiment was the Blue team, and the 7th Marine Regiment was the Red team — the adversary force.
The Red team, led by the 7th Marine Regiment as the command element, was composed of multiple military units: “During this exercise, a U.S. Marine Regiment augmented with subordinate units (consisting of a U.S. Marine Infantry Battalion, a U.S. Marine Forces Special Operations Command unit, U.S. Marine Air Group support, UKRM, U.S. Army, Canadians, Dutch, Emirati) formed a red force (adversary) to actively challenge and test a peer regiment of U.S. Marines (blue force).”
For clarity, the “UKRM” mentioned in the quote above, refers to the United Kingdom Royal Marines; the Commandos from 40 Commando. This commando unit is who is being referenced in the media, as having “defeated” the U.S. Marines during the exercise.
This important detail illustrates that the Royal Marines were an “augment” to a U.S. Marine Regiment that was training against another Marine Regiment. The statements made by the British media and the British MoD lead one to believe they were the only force, or the primary force, fighting against U.S. Marines. That is not the case. In fact, they fell under the command of other U.S. Marines, and fought side-by-side those U.S. Marines. Additionally, the British Royal Marines fought alongside many other units and unit types, including other U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations units.
‘Surrender’ and ‘Reset’
The biggest and most controversial claims made by the British MoD and the British media, that the U.S. Marines “surrendered” to the British Royal Marines, and that the U.S. Marines asked for a “reset” during the exercise, are not accurate or true statements.
As clarified in the USMC statement, and in the email statement to SOFREP, “‘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.”
I asked Captain Colvin and Ms. Adams to further clarify that statement. I asked them if at any point, did the Blue team (U.S. Marines from the 3rd Marine Regiment) ever surrender, or ask for a “reset.” The answer to that is no.
When Did the Brits Actually Beat the US Marines?
So the plain facts are that the initial media reports about the Marines surrendering to British Royal Marines are false as far as the facts are concerned. The Royal Marines are a great bunch of warfighters and being able to crow about beating the Marines on a battlefield would be a “feather in their caps” as they say, but it just didn’t happen that way.
But I did find an honest-to-God incident (within this century) where a British military unit did actually beat the U.S. Marines in a fair fight.
More than 20 years ago in the summer of 2001, during the invitational match of the Camp Pendleton Ghostriders Rugby Football Club, the 7th Parachute Royal Horse Artillery Rugby Team from Great Britain, gave the U.S. Marines a royal whipping.
“The score? A lot to a little,” according to Lt. Col. Samuel Pelham, the executive officer, from Headquarters and Support Battalion, MCB Camp Pendleton.
“They put up quite a fight but I think the final score was a lot to about five,” said British Army Sgt. Lee Soper, artilleryman, 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery. “It’s not their sport but they’re still giving it their all.”
Though the U.S. Marines didn’t win that contest, they didn’t surrender either. It may be of interest to also note that while the U.S. Marines have rugby teams, there are no American Football teams among U.K. military units to my knowledge. There is some advantage to the Brits in that. You can’t ever lose at a game you don’t even play, right?