WASHINGTON — Special operations Marines have learned to work closer with higher headquarters and Army Special Forces after an incident in Afghanistan in which a Marine special operations unit allegedly killed 19 Afghan civilians, according to the head of Marine Special Operations Command.

Maj. Gen. Dennis L. Hejlik said Thursday that one major lesson from the incident is that special operations Marines need to coordinate more with Combined Joint Special Operation Task Forces on planning and execution.

“Frankly, we didn’t do that well enough,” Hejlik said during a breakfast with reporters.

A Court of Inquiry is looking into whether the unit overreacted after being ambushed on March 4.

Witnesses claim the Marines shot at any perceived threats after the ambush.

The military later issued an apology and made condolence payments to the families of the families of the Afghans killed and wounded in the incident.

Later in the breakfast, Hejlik said he did not think the lack of communication played a role in the March 4 incident.

“When I say that was our biggest lesson learned, it was one of those ‘we didn’t know what we didn’t know,’ and that’s just being very frank,” Hejlik said.

During training, MARSOC Marines are now required to coordinate, plan and execute contingency plans with higher headquarters, Hejlik said.

“Those plans are actually graded, tactically graded, and they’re looked at throughout,” he said.

Hejlik also said the special operations company involved with the incident should have been working more closely with Army Special Forces detachments in the area.

“They were, but not closely enough, and that’s another lesson we learned early on,” he said.

As for the special operations Marines’ actions on March 4, Hejlik said the Marines “reacted appropriately to the initial ambush,” but he did not address the Marines’ conduct afterwards.

“I cannot speak to the rest of the incident as they returned to the forward operating base, again that’s still with the Court of Inquiry, and I cannot speak to that,” he said.

Shortly after the incident, Army Maj. Gen. Frank Kearney, head of U.S. Special Operations Command-Central Command, kicked the entire 120-Marine company out of Afghanistan.

Hejlik said he disagreed with the decision to expel the company, but he would not second-guess the commander on the ground.

“In my opinion, I think Gen. Kearney handled it professionally and appropriately at the time,” he said.

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