06 April 2011

Army Investigation into "Kill Squad" Reveals... Nothing The Army Times Didn't Report a Year Ago

WaPo has a long article about the Army's investigation into 5/2 Stryker and the findings around the commander of that brigade.

The administrative probe into the actions of the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, harshly criticizes Col. Harry D. Tunnell IV, the brigade commander, for defying the Army’s protect-the-population strategy in Afghanistan and instead adopting the motto “strike and destroy.”

But it stops short of holding Tunnell accountable for the alleged murders of three Afghan men, finding no “causal relation” between his aggressive leadership style and the killings.

And while some of this may seem startling to some people, it damn well shouldn't be a surprise. Sean Naylor, in a series of excellent Army Times articles, has been on top of this story since last year. Here's a long extract (that's still less that 15% of the overall story) from one of those articles.

In command briefings and interviews, 5/2 Stryker Brigade leaders are keen to give the impression that the unit has fully embraced the tenets of counterinsurgency doctrine. There is much discussion of the governance, reconstruction and development fusion cell headed by Lt. Col. Patrick Gaydon, the brigade special troops battalion commander.

“We think that mission is so important that we devoted his battalion staff to be the fusion cell leads,” Tunnell said. “He and his kids have done a superb job,” leading to the creation of a database of village elders, government leaders and similar figures, he said.

But lower down the rank structure, 1-17 soldiers said that a major factor behind the battalion’s difficulties in the Arghandab was the failure of their battalion and brigade commanders to adhere to McChrystal’s published counterinsurgency guidance, which states up front: “Protecting the people is the mission. The conflict will not be won by destroying the enemy.”

Soldiers in 1-17 say that while the battalion’s junior leaders have embraced these principles, Neumann and Tunnell — whose brigade’s motto is “Strike — Destroy” — have not. “There’s definitely a disconnect between the platoon and company level and the battalion and brigade level,” said a Charlie Company soldier in a leadership position, who requested he remain anonymous.

“McChrystal’s guidance is very clear on its population focus,” said another junior leader.

But 1-17 soldiers thought that focus was missing from their operations. “When we first started operations, we were told we were going to stay enemy-focused,” said Capt. Jon Burton, an assistant fire support officer who is also 1-17’s civil-military and information operations officer co-located with Charlie Company. “That came from brigade.”

“That has absolutely been the message that’s been delivered from higher,” agreed Turnblom, the Charlie Company fire support officer.

When the brigade deployed to Afghanistan, Tunnell announced his intention to pursue a “counter-guerrilla” campaign. Most observers perceived a conflict between Tunnell’s approach and McChrystal’s population-centric counterinsurgency campaign.

But Tunnell said that his approach was drawn straight from Army Field Manual 90-8, Counterguerrilla Operations (last updated in 1986), and that it was complementary to, not competitive with counterinsurgency. However, he added, the “counter-guerrilla” concept “is misunderstood. ... That’s why we don’t use the term anymore.”

Brenda Donnell, spokeswoman for the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., said FM 90-8 had been superseded by FM 3-24.2, Tactics in Counterinsurgency. “It’s not supposed to be used anymore,” she said of the counter-guerrilla manual.

Tunnell, who was badly wounded as a battalion commander in Iraq in 2003, was adamant that the situation in the Arghandab lent itself to the counter-guerrilla approach.

“Here in the green zone ... they’re hard-core guerrillas,” Tunnell said. “They form and they operate in teams and squads, and they mass into platoons very quickly. So I think you can’t ignore that. We haven’t seen any $10-a-day Taliban here.”

He outlined how he intended his approach to work. “[W]hen it comes to the enemy, you have leadership, supply chains and formations. And you’ve really got to tackle all three of those,” Tunnell said. “I was wounded as a battalion commander and they had a perfectly capable battalion commander in to replace me very quickly; our supply lines were interdicted with ambushes and they never stopped us from getting any resources, but when you degrade a formation substantially, that will stop operations. And then if you degrade formations, supply chains and leadership near simultaneously, you’ll cause the enemy in the area to collapse, and that is what we’re trying to do here.”

Asked if this was an enemy-centric approach, Tunnell replied: “The enemy informs how you gain access to the population. You cannot ignore it. We were taking horrible casualties trying to gain access to the population, and we knew that we needed to get to the population, and so if we didn’t conduct the types of operations that we’re conducting throughout the brigade’s area ... we wouldn’t be able to get to the population. So you can’t separate the two.”

Tunnell’s counter-guerrilla vision has driven his brigade’s missions, particularly in 1-17’s area of operations. “We definitely haven’t been COIN-focused in the Arghandab, we’ve been counter-guerrilla focused,” Burton said.

The perceived disconnect between Tunnell’s approach and McChrystal’s guidance has led to intense frustration in Charlie Company. One young soldier said all the squad leaders in his platoon “have done COIN fights before, and they’re pissed that we’re not doing COIN properly.”

Ink Spots followed up with some excellent deconstructions of Naylor's article, peppered with background and highlights from other sources, including Small Wars Journal, and Tunnell's own writings at NDU and other places.
Exum covered Naylor's work at Abu Muquwama.
Danger Room asked more general questions about McChrystal's approach, which are being vindicated more and more each day.

In short, anyone who's been paying any attention at all to the operations in Afghanistan, instead of the celebrity-headhunting-turned-journalism by Rolling Stone and the like, has seen all along that this was Mission:Difficult, not least because the leadership between strategic guidance and boots-on-ground hasn't quite grasped the way the war should be fought.

Now, I realize this is all very easy for me to throw darts at behind the keyboard, 15000 miles away and pretty darn safe. But knowing what I know about how the Army works (21 years growing up in, another 14 in it myself, and been around it as a contractor ever since I got out) I cannot possibly fathom how/why a subordinate commander (in this case BN/BDE) would intentionally and willfully fail to execute the missions assigned to him from higher - in this case COL Tunnell fighting counter-guerilla ops instead of the assigned COIN ops - without being relieved.
In fact, in the WaPo article, his former commander says
“Looking back on my relationship with him, I regret that I wasn’t more involved in his professional development during his tenure as a brigade commander,” said Brig. Gen. Frederick B. Hodges, then-director of operations in southern Afghanistan, according to the report. “I should have specifically told him that MG Carter and I had lost confidence in his ability to command from his failure to follow instructions and intent.”
If, as a commander, you "lost confidence in his ability to command from his failure to follow instructions and intent" the YOU RELIEVE HIM OF COMMAND. We're fighting a freakin' war, and it's no time to be all buddy-buddy with your subordinates. We relieve battalion commanders in garrison when their cannon batteries fire rounds out of impact areas and take out an abandoned shithouse. We can damn sure fire a brigade commander who has lost the confidence of his boss.

Now, a year later, we get this statement in the WaPo article
As a result of the investigation, Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the commander of I Corps, recommended that Tunnell receive a letter of admonition, a mark that could hamper his career in the Army but not necessarily end it.
Look, if the dude's an O-6, post-command, he's likely well past the 20 years he needs to retire. This doesn't hurt him at all.
Contrast that with this statement from the WaPo article
In contrast, Army officials recommended that several junior officers — including the former platoon leader of the soldiers charged with murder — receive letters of reprimand, a more serious punishment.
Why the junior leadership? They either (a) did know about it and didn't do anything, or (b) should've known about it and by not knowing demonstrated an amazing lack of awareness of what's going on in their units. Either one is a legitimate offense.

That said, I don't know the specifics of which unit the "kill squad" was assigned to, or whether or not their CO-level leadership had bought into Tunnell's 'counter-guerilla' strategy. But I do know that from all the reporting we've seen, many of the lower-level commanders did "get it" and were pushing back against brigade commander, because they understood his boss's intent. Now we're potentially hanging these guys out to dry? While they may have been criminally negligent about their role as platoon leaders in knowing what their guys are up to, I really want to see how they chose to interpret/execute COL Tunnell's guidance.

I know what some of you are thinking, too: I just hammered Tunnell in this same post for not following his boss's guidance, so why am I not hammering Tunnell's subordinates for not following his? Those junior officers are not idiots. They can read the CJTF-A guidance. They know what McChrystal said, and they know what they were told to do was not consistent with that four-star level guidance. They knew Tunnell was wrong. It's just unfortunate that Tunnell's boss didn't do anything about it when he had the chance.

By: Brant

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