Mattis, an infantry officer, made the comments Tuesday while speaking to a forum in San Diego about strategies for the war on terror. Mattis is the commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va.
According to an
He added, "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis continued. "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.
Thursday, Gen. Mike Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, issued a statement saying, "Lt. Gen. 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."
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he would let Mattis address his comments himself. But, he said, "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 to a Pentagon press conference. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he had not read Mattis' 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, reports CBS National Security Correspondent David Martin.
"We do not need generals who treat the grim business of war as a sporting event," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad. "These disturbing remarks are indicative of an apparent indifference to the value of human life."
Both 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 him "one of this country's bravest and most experienced military leaders."
He said the commitment of Marines "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."
He said he was confident Mattis would continue to serve with distinction.
Mattis was speaking during a panel discussion hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, a spokeswoman for the general said. His comments were reported by the television station KNSD in San Diego, and the audio recording is posted on the web site www.nbcsandiego.com .
According to Mattis' biography, he commanded, as a lieutenant colonel, an assault battalion during the first war with Iraq. During the war in Afghanistan, he commanded the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade; in the second war in Iraq, he commanded the 1st Marine Division during the invasion and when the unit returned to Iraq for counterinsurgency operations last year.