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General: It's 'fun to shoot some people'

Commandant gives counsel, acknowledges wrong word choice

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, right, speaks during a panel discussion Wednesday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A three-star Marine general who said it was "fun to shoot some people" should have chosen his words more carefully, the Marine Corps commandant said Thursday.

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who commanded Marine expeditions in Afghanistan and Iraq, made the comments Tuesday during a panel discussion in San Diego, California.

"Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot," Mattis said, prompting laughter from some military members in the audience. "It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling.

"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis said. "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."

Mattis' press office has not yet responded to a request to answer questions about his comments.

However, the Marine commandant, Gen. Michael Hagee, defended Mattis, calling him "one of this country's bravest and most experienced military leaders."

"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," he said in a written statement. "Lt. Gen. Mattis often speaks with a great deal of candor."

Hagee said he had counseled Mattis regarding the remarks and that Mattis "agrees he should have chosen his words more carefully."

"Throughout our history, Marines have given their lives in the defense of this nation and human rights around the globe," Hagee's statement read. "When necessary, this commitment helps to provide us the fortitude to take the lives of those who oppress others or threaten this nation's security. This is not something we relish, yet we accept it as a reality in our profession of arms."

"Lt. Gen. Mattis is a superb leader and one of the Corps' most courageous and experienced warriors," Hagee wrote. "I remain confident that he will continue to serve this nation with dedication and distinction."

Added Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "The last three times that that general has been in combat, when he was leading Marines in Afghanistan and the two times that he led his division in Iraq, his actions and those of his troops clearly show that he understands the value of proper leadership and the value of human life."

Pace spoke Thursday during a Pentagon briefing. He declined to comment directly on Mattis' comments.

Early in his career, Mattis served as a rifle and weapons platoon commander as a lieutenant and later a captain. He also commanded assault battalions in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield. He was the commander of the 1st Marine Division for the initial attack on Iraq.

San Diego television station KNSD, which calls itself NBC 7/39, captured Mattis' Tuesday comments on video and interviewed a retired military man afterward who said the general's remarks were "flippant."

"I was a little surprised," said retired Vice Adm. Edward H. Martin. "I don't think any of us who have ever fought in wars liked to kill anybody."

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