Right, But for all the Wrong Reasons

by Joshua Foust on 9/26/2010 · 1 comment

James Gordon Meek has a sad, sad story:

All Army Col. Lawrence Sellin wanted to do was be a real warrior killing Taliban, not a PowerPoint Ranger killing time in Afghanistan’s rear echelon.

After the Green Beret with a Ph.D. piped up about it in an online column, he got sacked from Afghan war boss Gen. David Petraeus’ staff – and catapulted into cult status as a military folk hero.

“I had added no value to the war effort,” the Special Forces officer and native of Saddle Brook, N.J., lamented after getting booted out of Afghanistan.

While Col. Sellin is correct to decry the military’s PPT, there’s another angle to this that worries me. Meek quotes a NATO spokesman as saying Sellin didn’t have the “situational awareness” to criticize the war effort. He then notes, with some snark, that ISAF thought Sellin had enough situational awareness to be “tasked with briefing an embedded News reporter on the war in Kabul last month before he was fired.”

Leaving aside the question of whether the Army really sends its best and brightest to brief reporters who, by their own admission, did no homework about their assignment prior to showing up at the airport, Meek doesn’t seem to know what he was getting. Here are his tweets about the incident:


The Taliban put a high premium on “fear & ruthlessness,” Sellin told me as we talked in the tiny conex hut.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck


COL Sellin explained the Taliban were of the Ghilzai tribe of the Pashtun, while President Karzai’s family were Durrani Pashtun tribesmen.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck


I told Sellin that NYC Al Qaeda plotter Najibullah Zazi’s e-mail alias was “Kado Khan”–a Pashtun who tried to kill a Durrani king in 1745.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

So, Sellin didn’t know what he was talking about, and Meek didn’t prepare for his trip, so he didn’t realize a know-nothing was briefing him on his trip. And now Meek is angry a know nothing who happened to complain about something everyone hates also briefed him before his own trip… incorrectly. (To be clear: the idea that Ghilzai and Durrani tribes have anything to do with the insurgency is just ignorant.)

Sellin isn’t hurting too much from being fired from ISAF—he’s cooling his heels as a well paid defense executive in Finland. But unfortunately Meek doesn’t get what ISAF’s complaint was about Sellin. He didn’t know anything special about Afghanistan—and apparently was busy telling reporters factually incorrect things about the war. He just saw that powerpoint is, in general, a content-free format. Which is something just about anyone who’s ever used it could have said in a column.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

The Sanity Inspector September 26, 2010 at 11:43 pm

That’s a real 21st century jibe: “His knowledge of that subject is only PowerPoint deep.”

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