Brickbats on the Kill Team

by Joshua Foust on 10/15/2010 · 29 comments

Spencer Ackerman uses some interesting language:

Did Disdain for Counterinsurgency Breed the ‘Kill Team?’

The looming question within Craig Whitlock’s excellent Washington Post piece on 5th Stryker’s commander, Colonel Harry D. Tunnell IV, is whether Tunnell’s distaste for counterinsurgency created an environment of callousness that led some of his soldiers to form a “Kill Team.” Tunnell himself had nothing to do with the murders of three Afghan civilians that the “Kill Team” is charged with committing. And there’s no evidence to date that he knew about the team’s alleged killings, corpse mutilations or hash smoking.

So… what’s the point? Spencer doesn’t actually say—he seems to imply that a rejection of counterinsurgency leads one (“breeds” one) to commit horrific crimes against humanity. Let’s be perfectly clear: you do not wander around the countryside, looking for people to murder and harvest their body parts, because you reject counterinsurgency. You do it because you are mentally ill. In a war, some soldiers will do horrible things—that’s not a question of aggressiveness (the USMC are FAR more aggressive than the Army when it comes to gunfights, but not even the Marines in Haditha harvested trophies from bodyparts), or COIN. It is a question of sanity.

Max Boot (sigh) piles on:

The Stryker brigades are among the most high-tech in the army, equipped with armored vehicles that are “networked” to provide a common “operating picture” of the battlefield. This can breed hubris among soldiers who think that their gee-whiz gadgets give them an insuperable advantage over a more primitive foe. That was certainly the case with Tunnell, who actually told me that all his sophisticated computer systems gave him a better picture of his area’s “human terrain” than that that possessed by the insurgents. I thought this was a pretty amazing statement considering that few if any of his soldiers spoke Pashto or understand anything about local customs — all of which was second nature to the Taliban.

Questions of Tunnell’s competence as a commander—and by all accounts he appears to be a bonehead—are beside the point. Tunnell is not the only commander to have vocally rejected COIN in Afghanistan, nor is he the only one to institute a far more aggressive stance than his predecessor. I can think of at least two Brigade commanders who did so in RC-East, without anything like the “Kill Team,” and blaming a commander for being aggressive and taking losses in a war is ridiculous on its face.

But blaming a misplaced faith in technology for his soldiers committing horrible crimes against humanity is… well it’s more than a few steps beyond petty.

A fascinating undercurrent to this discussion is the descent of counterinsurgency as an unstoppable force for the betterment of war to a troubled theory we haven’t really figured out how to do right, if ever. Many of the boosters of COIN, who see the McChrystal implementation literally blowing up in our faces, seem eager to cast what is wrong with the war on refusing to follow the theory, rather than the theory’s inherent unworkability.

There is an effort, in other words, still, to enforce a rigid orthodoxy on COIN. Boot proclaims “protecting the population” is job #1 of any COIN campaign, but even where it supposedly worked, in Iraq, all measures of violence got worse—air strikes increased exponentially, as did kill missions on High Value Targets, and aggressive (and bloody) “sweeping” missions to clear areas of insurgents. It played into the fundamental social and political dynamics of Iraq in 2007. It is not playing into the fundamental social and political dynamics of Afghanistan in 2010. Blaming the monsters at the margins of the war, rather than the ill-suited strategy at its center, is passing the buck and avoiding responsibility for what happened.

Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from 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

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use


Shah Mojadedi October 15, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I agree…witch hunt…The new line for “Why we lost the War?” The Nagle etc crowd are using…”Well they did not understand Coin” or “They did not give us enough time to do COIN” or “Obama would not play with us, and rejected CounterInsurgency”

Col. Tunnel had every right to fight the war in his AO as he saw fit. The fact that there were psychos in his unit as there were in Iraq should have nothing to do with him. Does this mean he “breeds” war criminals like some kind subhuman military machine opposed to COIN and the “image” of “Dear Leader” Petraeus and “official spokeman” Max Boot.

IF you do not agree with us you are a war criminal….but the SOF guys who ripped bullets out of the dead pregnant woman and were doing the “high value target” assassination program were doing “coin” does that mean that Petraeaus and McChrystal and Boot are war criminals too? Don’t answer…

This is the post war witch hunt starting early. The fact that Ackerman, Boot, and the unnamed State Department sources are out to “get Tunnel” an injured combat veteran commander is a sad symptom of what is coming. The Washington Post writer needs a damn lobotomy for tying Tunnel with these sick actions.

Just friggin Disgraceful logic and sad bordering on sinister character assassination to support a policy that is now proven a failure in every which way possible.

Thanks Joshua…theres a bad moon arising here somewhere between ISAF and the Belt Way…watch out everyone, truth and logic mean nothing when reputations are at stake.

Caleb Kavon October 15, 2010 at 12:33 pm

The Party line of COIN is failing dramatically, so they need a scapegoat and an excuse. Tunnel is the easy victim, he “breeds” this kind of action via his opposition to COIN. What BS…!!

We are not doing COIN for several reasons

A. The USA is just financially in bad shape. We do not have one trillion to waste anymore. We need to get out sooner rather than later. No time to play COIN anymore.

B. If we were going to do it, it should have started in 2003 when Barno or whichever expert was in charge. We did not, forgot Afghanistan and invaded Iraq, which is not a finished story yet.

C. There is no proof that sending Sargeant X to build a school in Argahndeb is going to make Muhammed X the villager like the Government more or less. No proof. In fact the increased casualties we are taking in Helmand and Kandahar point to the opposite. It is not working in these two places at all.

D. The Afghans themselves need to win the hearts and minds of their own population. See Omer Daudzei’s lecture to Petreaus

E. The Afghans in Kandahar are rejecting the program, huge civilian losses, and constant damage have occurred. It is not working and worse they still need to suffer most of one year.

G. The program has reached a dead stop. Karzai ordered the massive security checkpoints dismantled last week. That was the main feature of the “population control” and now it is over. The only thing left is the massively expensive Generators that were purchased by the RC recently.

H. Because we focused on the South, the East and North are gone. This was the biggest mistake of all, if you are going to work anywhere make sure you do not make a strategic mistake of huge porportions.

I. Be Thankful if you are not in the military, because if you are, you cannot speak out easily or be branded like Colonel Tunnel has been. Honest opinions must not be repressed and it is incumbent on the Army leadership what has gone wrong here so that it does not happen again at least until the next political fad that is COIN comes along.

J. The Afghans must fight this war, not us. This is the only thing anyone can learn after this theory and that theory.

H. Pres. Obama figured all of this out a long time ago. Which is why the Afghans need to take charge now, the sooner the better and let us figure out what happened that made this such a mess in the future. Meanwhile let them take their country back after ten years, we should help but from the background, not from the front anymore.

I. ISAF is there to provide security. Do this first and drink tea later should me the motto. Security First, Drink Tea later. All these problems hinge around the lack of security. The Insurgents have surged we have not. The country is LESS secure today than when the surge started. ISAF needs to provide security and not “experiment” with every new commanders new concepts.

Sorry attack on Colonel Tunnel. THANK YOU MR.FOUST for pointing this crazy linkage out. It is a sad day when quasi political needs lend to the total character assassination of others.

Boris Sizemore October 15, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Its the pictures. They are all frightened to death that these “deer hunter” photos will be exposed.

Thus they are doing anything to tie Tunnel’s opposition to COIN to this tragedy. It is almost as if there is a spin doctor party line going on between CNAS, “Dear Leader” and Ackerman, Boot, and the Washington Post lobotomy patient. Can I be copied on the emails? Please?

Spin away…it will not change a thing. Nothing has worked in Afghanistan for us and the Soviets and we do not know why. Let the Afghans fight or talk peace or whatever but let them do it. We have proven we cannot do anything right there at all.

Steve C October 15, 2010 at 1:31 pm

If I’m totally wrong about a chain of events here, someone please correct me, but the fact that these soldiers have been charged due to information about their behavior finding its way up the chain of command, is a significant positive about both Tunnel’s command and his character.

Steve Maghribi October 15, 2010 at 1:44 pm

The Stryker Brigade was getting great press and praise until this “Deer Hunter” thing came up. Now they want to make it seem like the Commander was at fault.

Shame on Ackerman, the Washington Post, and Boot(follow the Dear Leader Forever). This is just disgusting and a cover up of the plethora of things that have gone wrong in this war.

The dismantling of the security check points is absolutely big news but the spin doctors do not cover it. Petraeus’ program is bust if these are demolished, just bust. I am sure he is just trying to figure a way to get out of there before his reputation is ruined like Tunnel’s reputation has been ruined.

The ANSF is not on “program” with the COIN and will listen to Karzai, so why not move some of the Marjah troops to Nangarhar
or Kunar and at least try to stop the loss of the East, or to Takhar where it would make sense to do something before there is an IED and Shaheed mission every day. And get the Afghans in on this right now. Right now. We are leaving any which way but loose now. Get them into the fight, if it is not too late.

Not much time, but time to make some quick changes. We are in “leaving on a jet plane” mode so do something now to change what you can.

The only thing I would add is that it is also impossible to do in COIN if the ISI base areas are safe. Petraeus knows this and that is why he was trying to “push the limits” on the border. The Pakistanis checkmated him on this, so he is just out of cards on a long night in Las Vegas, or Kabul if you will.

I would feel sorry for him if he was not just so determined to make himself into the “Dear Leader” figure with flunkies like Boot/Nagle/Exum/Ackerman at his side.

But if he is behind this Tunnel thing or CNAS is-then shame on all of them. What goes around comes around. I hope they all remember that. Actually I am sure they know, which is why they are launching this preemptive CYA strike in advance.

Steve Maghribi October 15, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Actually, I would love to here Tunnel’s point of view on this. Someone should allow him his chance to make a rebuttal.
If anyone out there knows him, call him and try. Better to
push back on this attack now rather than

carl October 15, 2010 at 5:40 pm

That Brigade was not getting good press prior to this. See Naylor’s article in the Army Times.

This came to light because CID was investigating reports of hashish use in that platoon/company and a soldier (the one who was severely beaten I think) pulled aside an investigator and told him what was going on. This did not, repeat not, develop because of anybody in the chain of command at platoon or company level. That this went on speaks very ill of that company, therefore the battalion and maybe the brigade. There was just absolutely lousy leadership here and the Army, in addition to trying the killers, should find out how much lousy leadership there was; then publish the results making sure to name names.

I don’t think Boot suggested that the atrocities were caused by misplace faith in computers. I think he made the comment because it showed so clearly that Tunnell was a moron to believe computers beat being able to talk to the locals. Boot probably couldn’t resist.

Somebody mentioned the orthodoxy of coin. Linn’s book of the Filipino insurrection made the point that our efforts worked there because they were all different and adapted to the local conditions. I take his point is that if somebody believes in orthodoxy, they got it wrong. You do what works at the time and in the spot.

Steve C October 15, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Thanks for putting me straight on that Carl.

So, I suppose, the question remains about how CID became involved. Someone must have given them a tip.

Don Anderson October 16, 2010 at 12:19 am

Still…blaming the Colonel because he did not like COIN and making the assertion that this “bred” the psycho in the unit is stretching it..

These are posts from a young LT in the Unit I believe and shows just some of the highs and lows of the time in this tour. Nothing to show a Brigade of “dirt bags” as everyone is trying to put out. In fact, they probably did better than anyone is giving them credit for.

This is just a cya…he did not like COIN so his unit was bad, he did not follow the party line he was a mess. I have seen nothing to substantiate that he was a poor combat leader. I hope we get more reporting from either the Colonel or units members on what transpired on that tour.

What kind of writing is “he sneered at COIN, or his thinking “breeds” war crimes.

In Vietnam there was this kind of crazy blame game. The Americal Division was nailed for being a unit that failed but not like this because they did not follow coin…

This is just post war politics before the war is even over.

Steve C October 16, 2010 at 10:28 am

“Still, illicit drug use was already common in the platoon as it prepared to leave Lewis-McChord for Afghanistan in spring 2009, at least according to the sworn testimony from one of its members, Pfc. Justin A. Stoner. While at the base, “my platoon was not exactly straightforward with substance abuse,” Private Stoner told Army investigators.”

TS Alfabet October 16, 2010 at 11:27 am

So many comments about leaving the war “to the Afghans” to fight.

This is self-delusion. As Herschel Smith at The Captain’s Blog has pointed out many times, the ANA and ANP, with the exception of a few elite units, are a total mess and in absolutely no shape to fight anyone except maybe the local goat farmer.

“COIN orthodoxy” should be an obvious contradiction. What worked in Anbar probably will not work equally in Diyala let alone Kandahar. What should matter is results: increased security, lower enemy activity, growing local cooperation and intelligence. How that gets accomplished may be very different from province to province or village to village. The American soldier/marine is a great innovator and highly adaptive but we seem to be strangling those priceless qualities under a COIN orthodoxy.

Finally, this all gets down to perception. If the locals perceive that the U.S. is winning, however gradually, progress will occur. If the perception is that the U.S. is either not winning or is stalemated and, in any event, will not be around in another 10 months, then progress is impossible and the effort is futile.

Boris Sizemore October 16, 2010 at 11:57 am

Thats a good point, I guess Ackerman and the Post Guy and for sure General Boot have never been in a combat situation. Its hard, uncertain and tough. Things happen, people get killed, orders need to be followed and it is damn hard to maintain discipline top to bottom. His Brigade was stretched out all over the place.

Combat is Combat. Some folks crack, some are on anti depressants the rest of their lives, some drink too much and some cannot sleep and some kill themselves. Surviving the war is one thing. Surviving the peace is sometimes harder still.

The Stryker Brigade got strung out from Zabul to Spin Boldak, to Argendeb/Zhari and Panjwai all the way to Maiwand during the year. Most of this time was pre Glorious Marjah and yes they were essentially the first spear of the surge.

Tunnel did not play COIN and pissed all the civilians off. His unit was the first to start taking serious casualties, others have followed and 35 KIA for a year is about average now for most units in the kill zones. But Stryker and Tunnel is going to take the bad guy rap, and be the fall guy for this because he did not like COIN.

I would love to take the Post guy and General Boot and Ackerman out on a patrol with me sometime, and watch the liquid fall from their pants. Then I would leave them crying in a position for a week while the enemy fired at them every day. This is what the soldiers go through every day there.

Combat is no piece of cake and 99% of the soldiers and their Colonel have done more in one year than those writers will ever do. They deserve praise and not villification. One platoon and one bad burned out psycho platoon leader cannot disgrace the Brigade that fought for one year in tough tough situations.

Thanks for sharing Lt. Rajiv’s beautiful well written posts. Go Stryker!! Security Now, Drink Tea Later.

b October 16, 2010 at 12:11 pm

So we shall forget now that Col. Tunnell ignored the orders from the people above him to do COIN, behaved like an asshole towards his men and totally ruined the relation with the people in Arghandab so far that his brigade had to eventually be ordered out of there and got reassigned to do road security.

We shall also forget that the killer soldier was for month on the personal security detail of that not-so-soft-spoken Colonel before the killings.

We shall now believe that command atmosphere has nothing, zero, nada to do with the behavior of troops.

Yeah, sure ….

Back in January Ink Spots had a good piece about 5th Stryker: What the hell is going on in the Arghandab River Valley?

Boris Sizemore October 16, 2010 at 12:12 pm

About the ANSF. We are leaving. We do not have the money to stay. It is Afghanistan not America. They will need to fight for their country or lose it, or talk peace or whatever.

We cannot determine this. I mean don’t we have enough problems to worry about at home?

The ANSF will have to finish this for us. We cannot stay 20 years.

TS Alfabet October 16, 2010 at 1:08 pm

“We do not have the money…” is a convenient excuse and just plain b.s.

Let us at least be honest enough with ourselves to say what we really think. We can quit Afghanistan for many reasons: there is not a sufficient national interest (dubious); we simply are not tough enough or smart enough to beat those darn taliban (ridiculous on its face); the American public no longer supports the war (directly attributable to a lousy wartime leader); we are unwilling to bear the costs of victory (quite possibly true, see ‘wartime leader’), etc…

But let’s not have any more of this nonsense about not affording it. The U.S. government wastes more money on the most frivolous boondoggles without batting an eye. The money is there. We simply have to make a decision about what is important and what is not important and stop spending money on that which is not important.

You may be right, Boris, that we have plenty of problems here at home to worry about, but that takes a very dim view of the U.S. What are you saying about the U.S. here? That we are incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time? That the U.S. cannot solve its domestic problems and protect its vital interests overseas as well? This is the country that fought and won a two, front, global war just 70 years ago; that had severe domestic issues from the 1960’s through the 1970’s and still managed to win the Cold War in the 1980’s.

It is not a question of “can’t do,” it is simply a question of “won’t do.” The ANSF is not going to finish anything. Let’s be clear about that. We can pack up the ObamaSurge in July 2011 with comforting notions that we are handing things off to the Afghans and will be there to support and help the ANSF but we all know that is a lie. The terrorist hordes will quickly overrun Afghanistan in a matter of months. And that’s fine, if that is the choice we make. But let’s just say that up front, that we are OK with the terrorists coming back to power in Afghanistan. But we should know that we are not doing ourselves any favors and that we will pay a price in America for punting the ball.

Steve Maghribi October 16, 2010 at 12:59 pm

“So we shall forget now that Col. Tunnell ignored the orders from the people above him to do COIN, behaved like an asshole towards his men and totally ruined the relation with the people in Arghandab so far that his brigade had to eventually be ordered out of there and got reassigned to do road security.”

What? Well b you are now a member of the Salem Witch Hunter Team…I will send you your “Col Tunnel Witch Hunt” Badge via post. COD of course.

Do you believe everything you read? Were you there? Can you swear on a bible or other religious text that the Col. was “an asshole to his men” and that HE lost the support of the Argendeb.
Did he give classes to the SGT on how to cut off ears?

It’s BS….let him defend himself, this is just the Salem witch trials.

IF You do not do COIN -we get you. That is what is going on. The writers gang up on one man in the Washington Post? Incredible CYA for COIN.

We have been fighting in that same area for years. Stryker was not the first nor the last.

Here is another article. Same area, worse results. Another unit.

Blame them too? Blame McChrystal for the pregnant woman and the whole other hundreds of false kills doing COIN night raids?


Just blame Col Tunnel, because…..he did not go with the program. He did not buy into COIN we must persecute him and trash his name. Just a pathetic and sad way to defend a failing COIN program.

Thanks for the Ink Spots, I now see the witch hunting started even before.

About the road duty, guess what? The Strykers should have been used for this the whole time. Everyone knows since 1985 that you cannot use vehicles in the Green Zone. The LTs articles show they did the best they could with what they had. I am sure you did not read that either. The Road duty was the main mission in Zabul and
Spin Boldak and Dand before the Argendeb decision.

Whoever put them in that area did not know how to use Strykers.

Again not their mistake, the RC commanders’ mistake. Your comment shows that you do not know much about the area or the terrain or what the Strykers are best used for.

Have you ever been to Argendeb? I have. Think before you persecute people, it is just persecution and nothing else.

Boris Sizemore October 16, 2010 at 1:34 pm

TS….How long do you propose we stay, and how much should we spend? Do you want to be there for a century or 60 years? How long? I am not head of the Budget. I believe in we are bad shape.

Is it up to Americans or Afghans to determine to determine the future for Afghans? You answer the question yourself. Others may see things differently.

It costs one million dollars per soldier per year. I guess it depends on how you see the economic crisis then. I believe we are deep trouble and cannot spend a trillion to stay in Afghanistan forever.

Maybe I am wrong, but the President sees it the same way.

Most Americans want out also. Lets see what the Afghans can do themselves. We cannot be there forever. Or can we?

Boris Sizemore October 16, 2010 at 1:37 pm

ps…I agree that there is a good chance that the ANSF will not make it. But I am not sure. So you are right on that. I must be fair…to you.

But in the end, it is their country and they will need to decide what they want to do. We still have at least five years before the fall to see what happens….

Adnan Kakar October 16, 2010 at 1:41 pm

As an Afghan, I agree with Boris. We must take our destiny hand in hand. The US cannot stay forever nor do we want that. Some of us oppose the Pakistani ISI and must be prepared to fight this, some of us oppose radical islam. It is our country in the end, let us see what we can do after 2014.

Caleb Kavon October 16, 2010 at 1:58 pm

For TS and Boris….I am stealing this post from Don Anderson…I think he put the whole “stay or go away” situation in clear format…

“Thanks Sekundar..The Woodward Book brings up a lot of interesting points about the debate last year in the White House. Some things are coming out which allow us to see which way the wind is blowing for 2010/11.

A. Obama wants a transition, one way or the other. But a transition it will be.

B. Obama in retrospect feels DOD basically hijacked the process. He asked for options and got none. He wanted to send 10K new troops but settled on 30K after being bureaucratically ambushed. This next round of analysis on the war will be different. The President now knows the ropes and the push back is on.

C. In his mind, 2011 starts the drawdown. Gen Petraaus and Gates will as they are skilled organizational warriors will do their best to string this out, but the President knows now where he wants to go. The Surge troops are on their way out now. The dates have just not been announced.

D. Obama will not give this project 889 Billion that this was going to cost.

E. The end game is on. Obama wants to somehow avoid a collapse but we are not going to expand the war. This is the last year. The Afghan’s in control era should be starting now. Whether it does or not depends on how fast ISAF and Embassy get the message. The project is over.

F. The decision is clear, Afghanistan is not central to our National Security. We will continue to do CT operations and advisory support for both ANSF and the Pakistan Army but the days of ISAF running this war are now in full ebb.

G. COIN and Country building are now finished. The party line will continue to pay lip service to this effort, but available resources will not be there. The GIRoA will need to work with less and find within itself the strength to turn this around. The US will be there to support in a strong way, but it is now the Afghan’s who must resist the Opposition forces.

H. The estimate is that the situation in Pakistan will not deteriorate too rapidly leaving the US drawdown as a main feature of the next electoral contest in 2012. As usual the election timeline is critical. If we end up with a two term President-Pakistan will get more of the support and Afghanistan less in the future. 160 million citizens of a nuclear Pakistan are deemed more central long term than 29 Million Afghans.

I. Next year will be very interesting as the “stake holders” (I so hate that term) begin to jostle for position and wager on various sides.

J. Actions speak louder than words. Although the Administration and ISAF will declare emphatically that the program is continuing the overall policy has already changed. They are not turning off the lights, but not much will be left in the room.

K. The final arbiter of this struggle will not be ISAF, it will the ANSF designed and trained by LTG Caldwell. The future of GIRoA is in its hands alone. The future will tell if they are able to hold the line against the Oppostion forces. This will be not known until the handover of Provinces begins to occur.

L. Pakistan holds the best cards at the current time, and Washington is neutral on the outcome. Transition and Draw down are the operative words for the next 5 years in Afghanistan.

K. The Surge is over. Bring on the marching band.”

I think this sums up what is going on behind the scenes. So we are leaving money or not.

Don Anderson October 16, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Caleb…You are a thief, I want my “Col Tunnel Witch Hunt” Badge back now.

No seriously if you put that post into context and see long term that the surge is over, it explains the witch hunt. The COIN has not worked and guys like Tunnel stood in the way.

What we have are the opening rounds of a post war struggle, where guys like General Boot, and Danger Zone Ackerman and a whole lot of other people like CNAS are going to be trying to explain why things went south and who was to blame.

The Army will have to decide how it wants to focus in the future. All COIN? Less COIN? A mix? Or what?

The COIN proponents have staked a lot on this and no one wants to get in their way. This attack on Tunnel is political at its roots and the atrocity is the perfect launch pad for it. Easy target, easy to pull off.

Happens after every war. This spin is going down very fast this time. I feel bad for all the junior Officers and the troops, when politics starts up when the fighting has not even stopped.

Steve Maghribi October 16, 2010 at 3:22 pm

As for the Stryker Brigade having problems in CONUS before getting deployed everyone should read this NYT article. It shows the aftermath of what happens to a unit when it leaves combat and returns home.

I think people forget what these units go through during and after a War. Problems are not unique nor strange after some of these Brigades have deployed 3 or more times. The Army is just exhausted now after all these years of fighting the War on Terror, and naturally understandibly so.

This particular unit fought an incredible battle in Fallujah and returned just burnt out completely. Col Newell has quite the command pre and post Iraq. So has Col. Tunnel. But Newell was
not in trouble for opposing COIN

Note same kind of problems in Iraq as in Afghanistan

The roots of Sgt Gibbons problems go back to his IRAQ tours and not to Col. Tunnel. Think about it, makes sense. They are trying to blackball one man for a whole history of problems in both wars that have not been fixed yet.

Grant October 16, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Of course if you rotate them to quickly you take the soldiers who have an understanding of the situation away from the fighting to be replaced with poorly educated* soldiers who will have to learn it all over again. We saw precisely the same thing occur with officers during the Vietnam War. There also isn’t a nice formula to predict when to pull them out.

* Educated in terms of local affairs of the people around them, not in terms of degrees and diplomas.

Caleb Kavon October 16, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Steve you are on roll….Good post, the Guardian article shows exactly the same kind of thing that was done in Iraq, this Platoon did in Afghanistan. This is just political after all..

Boris Sizemore October 16, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Case Closed….Witch Hunt is over. General Boot, Danger Zone and the Washington Post shot and missed this time. Now we can focus on the failure of the campaign without damaging one man’s reputation, Good Job Steve.

We should charge a fee for defending this man and his unit.

Col. Tunnel is proven not guilty of all charges and we can focus on something else until the next victim requires our support…

The wheels of justice turn slowly but surely.

Ps. Col Peter Newell and Col Viet Luong are the best combat Colonels in the Army today…just to make that clear. I hope Col Tunnel gets credit for all he had done too after this inquest is given up for the non sequitor that it really is.

What’s next, who knows?

Anonymous October 17, 2010 at 12:52 am

I am an officer who deployed with 5th Stryker during the entire 12 month tour. I’m commenting on this dialogue anonymously at the request of a friend. While I do not intend to delve into several of the issues discussed here due to my own professional alliances, I would like to put in perspective the claim that a Brigade commander’s leadership philosophy can realistically affect major changes on the ground, including squad level crimes committed by 3rd Platoon, Bravo of 2-1 IN.

First, let’s recognize that most Americans have no real access to exposure of the tactical employment of counterinsurgency. Our media outlets focus so much on what Colonels and Generals are saying; their command intents, etc. But the reality is that counterinsurgency is not a policy that can be executed at the command level. Afghanistan (even more so than Iraq) is a Platoon and Squad leader’s war. LTs and CPTs are the ones out each day meeting local leaders; interacting with elders; listening to their needs and concerns, and on many occasions, meeting those needs and concerns.

It is not the consolidation of power at the O-6 thru O-10 levels which wins a COIN fight. Rather, its the decentralization of authority and resources to the level of daily interaction (platoon/company) which wins local trust. When a tribal elder asks for assistance in finding water or security, the platoon or company commander must be able to respond with something more than “let me ask my boss”. And on many occasions- we were able to initiate great projects that made significant differences on the ground. But it wasn’t because of, nor in spite of, O-6 or O-10 leadership…it was because of junior leaders who take ownership of the fight on the ground. A brigade commander commands over 6,000 soldiers. Whether he was touting counter-guerilla, COIN, etc…at the end of the day, it is the PL and CO who have to make the ethical judgement calls on how to best engage locals.

So that being said, the more we unmercifully hold Generals and COLs accountable for what happens on the ground far far below them, far out of their daily perview, they have a higher incentive to retain power and control at their level…I know I’d do the same thing! I definitely understand where they’re coming from. But when they become less likely to decentralize authority to the levels which change can be affected, the COIN campaign suffers.

With this in mind, as an officer myself, I personally wonder why the PL and PSG of that platoon have not been mentioned at all in these debates. Those leaders are the ones who should have been checking these soldiers on a daily basis; keeping accountability of them during all missions. Why weren’t they doing their jobs? More importantly, why aren’t we asking that question?

Perhaps there exists a sentiment that “a 25 yearold LT is still just a 25 yearold kid…you can’t blame him, he’s new!”. The minute we start absolving junior leaders of their high moral standard is the same minute we start the disintegration of the officership profession as a whole. There is no age too old or too young to take a moral stand in the officer corps. When you’re commissioned by the president, I don’t care if you’re a four star general or an LT…you better check on your men and make sure they are staying within the commander’s intent. That is where I believe the real failure of responsibility occurred with 3rd platoon from what little I know about the incident.

In closing…don’t be so hard on the big brass. Perhaps we should assign both blame, credit, and greater responsibility, to the ones affecting the day to day.

bernard October 20, 2010 at 6:31 am

This is the tunnel, what is the chain of coins they’ll be satisfied with a little Lit

Old Blue October 20, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Anon @ 12:52 makes some truly great points about decentralization in a COIN fight, and the fact that battalion and brigade commanders are having real problems devolving the requisite authority to the level of effectiveness. He also makes a great point that holding brigade commanders responsible for the actions of a Staff Sergeant encourages other O-5 and above officers to hold authority… and therefore responsibility… close to the vest, disabling effective COIN behaviors.

I was in Afghanistan during the entire tenure of the 5-2 Stryker. I saw the impact of COL Tunnel’s emphasis on counter-guerrilla vs counterinsurgency. It was tremendously negative. 5-2 Stryker must have realized this, as they did the equivalent of a PR campaign with ISAF after being reassigned to the road mission. CPT Pan traveled about with glossy, bound brochures touting the COIN excellence of 5-2 Stryker. CPT Pan spoke in front of students at the COIN Training Center and was barred from further speaking following his abysmal presentation. A review of the glossy 5-2 brochure demonstrated a complete lack of comprehension of the effects of actions on the ground, meeting every description of failed measurements for COIN. They did, however, try very hard to retroactively apply COIN terminology to a fight they had conducted without reference to COIN from the start.

5-2 Stryker realized that they were not being held in high regard and were on a PR mission to salvage their reputation. If they were so proud of their effects in the Arghandab, then why the PR tour of CPT Pan?

Did COL Tunnel breed the “Kill Team?” Not by himself, but does command climate have an effect on the behaviors of their troops? You bet. It has an effect on leadership all the way down the chain. No, COL Tunnel did not singlehandedly create the “kill team.” He created an atmosphere wherein overly aggressive behavior was not only tolerated, but encouraged. He fired a company commander who quoted GEN McChrystal, and he flouted the directives and guidance of a four star General. This is not something that anyone should defend as “professionalism.” Violating the guidance and directives of higher commanders is not what is considered professional behavior in any military force.

Finally, he trained his brigade for the wrong war. When you train for a certain type of fight, that’s the way that you try to apply yourselves. Many under his command realized that they were not doing what the combatant commander wanted for them to do. They spoke out. Officers were fired for attempting to do what GEN McChrystal wanted for them to do. Enlisted men found themselves applying tactics that were obviously not working. The Arghandab, never a cakewalk, suddenly became the highest casualty-producer in Afghanistan. It was the COIN equivalent of applying horse cavalry charges in the face of machine guns; not an effective approach.

The officers and men under his leadership did the best that they could… or most of them did… to execute the guidance and directives of the brigade commander. I’m sure that there were many instances of valor under fire. I’m sure that many acquitted themselves well in the combat they found themselves engaged in. I am also sure that they were not being well-utilized.

COL Tunnel did not create the “kill team,” but he clearly established a command climate where such overly aggressive action went practically unnoticed and certainly went without investigation. In fact, these crimes were only revealed by accident and not because of a climate that found repeated killings of civilians armed with nothing more threatening than a rifle magazine to be remarkable. That, too, is command climate. Finally, I agree with the anonymous officer in that the Platoon Sergeant, Platoon Leader and all the company-grade NCO’s and officers bear a great deal of responsibility for the fact that murder was repeatedly committed on their watch and under their oversight.

As for indictments of COIN as an appropriate operational methodology for fighting against an insurgency, for someone who recently spent 15 months in Afghanistan and who traveled to diverse areas and saw many units in action, the defense that COIN has not been properly applied stands pretty well. A good plan, executed poorly, appears to be a poor plan. I also have real-world examples of effective COIN behaviors bringing good results. One last observation; the media, the think-tanks and the pundits are all off-base. Very little of what I read of the discussion back here in the US bears any great resemblance to reality on the ground in Afghanistan. It’s hard to have a meaningful discussion when the “accepted facts” are largely bullshit.

Don Anderson October 20, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Old Blue,

I was there the whole time too. I still am there, and have been here before the invasion.

Did not see it the way you do. Actually heard a lot of good things about Stryker while they were here. Funny.

I was aware, however, of some politics going on. Looks like they still are, and Col. Tunnel is the fall guy. I hope we can hear from him soon.

All the Best, Thanks…

Previous post:

Next post: