American Spartan

THE PROMISE, THE MISSION, AND THE BETRAYAL

OF SPECIAL FORCES MAJOR JIM GANT

by Ann Scott Tyson

copyright 2014

( excerpts as book review )

~

Jim fell hard for the desert civilization code and its ethos of Pashtunwali in 2003, while living with the Mohmand tribe and fighting the Taliban alongside them in Konar Province.  He related to their warrior creed as parallel to the life he’d embraced himself as a Green Beret and one he preached to lead his small band of men into battle.  It resonated with the ancient laws abided by the obedient three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae in 480 BCE.  Honor, strength, and loyalty were not empty platitudes to Afghanistan’s tribes; they were as important to tribal members as were water and wheat.  As important as they were to Jim.  As important as Jim assumed they were to the U.S. military establishment.

In 2010, as Jim prepared to return to Afghanistan, he increasingly realized that the only way to stabilize the country was to empower the desert civilizations, the Pashtuns still living in the rugged lands bordering and inside Pakistan.  It was the pursuit of this honor, through physical courage and battling a common enemy, that Jim believed would allow him to become close to the Pashtuns.  To ally with these proud fighters, to befriend them and help them recover their economies while also giving them the power to defend themselves, would not only take the fight to the Taiban but also draw disgruntled Taliban foot soldiers back to their villages…

~

Jim viewed the Taliban’s top leaders ~ Islamic extremists such as the one-eyed Mullah Omar ~ as championing a dogmatic, tyrannical movement that by its very nature threatened to dismantle the millennia-old rule by tribal elders.  If the U.S. military were to convincingly help village elders take back their clans, defend their honor and traditions, and return their tribes to the authority of these egalitarian peer councils, the Taliban would be hollowed out and ultimately destroyed.  The men who left the villages to join the Taliban in the turmoil of the civil wars would come back and take their rightful places inside their tribes.  With no foot soldiers, the Taliban would lose power.  The best way to empower the rough-hewn tribes, Jim believed, was with small teams of Special Forces such as his ODA 316, living among them one warrior to another.  Once one tribe was secure, the team would leave and knock on the qalat of the tribe next door and start all over.  It required little manpower or money, but could help Afghanistan begin to change from a war-torn terrorist haven to a more stable U.S. ally…

~

“Why are you Americans here in Afghanistan?” he asked.

“Our country was attacked.  We came here to fight the Taliban and others responsible for this,” Jim replied.  Then he pulled out a laptop and showed Noor Afzhal video footage of the Twin Towers crumbling to the ground on September 11.  “My men and I are warriors.  But we are not here to fight you,” Jim said.  “We want to help you.”

Noor Afzhal was visibly moved.  He was silent for a moment, and took a sip of tea.  Then he spoke again to the young American.  “If you can come all the way to Afghanistan from the United States to help us, then why should I not help you?” Noor Afzhal said.  “We don’t want the Taliban here.”  …

~

“If they were doing this all over Afghanistan, the war would be over,” said Drew, the machine gunner.  “This works.  It’s something you have to see to believe.  It’s a different kind of warfare.  Sometimes you use bombs and bullets, and sometimes you need another method ~ relationships.”  …

~

Petraeus had championed the initiative at the top levels of the U.S. and Afghan governments for the past year and a half.  The program had taken off rapidly since Petraeus and his subordinate commanders, Brig. Gen. Miller and Col. Bolduc, launched it in the summer of 2010.  With the U.S. military initially choosing the locations, distributing the weapons, and controlling the pay, U.S. Special Forces teams quickly recruited, armed, and trained thousands of local police around the country by early 2011…

~

Hard-core insurgent commander Maulawi Basir… was associated with the strict and violent Salafist strain of Islam…

~

The tribe’s influence on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border held major appeal for Jim.  One of the primary goals of his one-tribe-at-a-time strategy was to leverage the tribes to help uproot the insurgent safe havens in Pakistan that were vital to sustaining the Taliban’s war in Afghanistan.  The Mohmand, Safi, and Mushwani tribes all had large populations on either side of the border…

~

But his main message, driven home by his deepening ties with the Safi and Mushwani leaders, was that the tribes held the only key to victory.  He knew it, and the Taliban knew it…

~

Often families contained some adult males who were serving in the Taliban and others who worked for the government…

~

Afghans living in the high rugged valleys were isolated from the settled towns below.  With no forces to protect them, they had little choice but to provide Taliban fighters with food, water, shelter, and refuge if they needed it, or face beatings or other retribution, and Jalil’s family was no different…

~

“When I am up in the Shalay, they say I am working for the government.  When I am down here, they say I am Taliban!” Jalil fumed.  “I just want my family to live safely with no one bothering us.” …

~

Buried in the fine print was an abrupt change of mission for Jim’s team:  Tribe 33 was to close down its base in Mangwel no later than January 15, 2012…

~

It described the move as part of the overarching U.S. military transition to the Afghan government and security forces in preparation for the withdrawal of most American forces by 2014…

~

We agreed that as a strategy, pulling out of the Mohmand tribal area and leaving behind the Afghans who had most steadfastly supported the arbakai program from the very first ~ when the risk was greatest ~ made no sense.  It reflected a catastrophic misunderstanding of the importance of the hard-won relationship with the tribe and the advantages of maintaining that tie.  The Mohmands and Manqwel had set the example that other areas and tribes wanted to follow.  The arbakai in Mangwel and the rest of the district were the most powerful security force in the area.  Jim’s bond with the tribe was what created the potential for expanding the arbakai into other areas and winning over former Taliban.  Reaping those benefits required a long-term commitment.   He knew he could not remain in Mangwel forever, but his team had been in the village just ten months.

Jim and I worked together on a memo that urged Wilson to postpone shutting down the Mangwel base, arguing that it could undermine security in the area and pointing out that the district government was ineffective and corrupt…

~

The Safis had dominated the oft-contested Konar Province for centuries.  An uncompromising and war-driven tribe, they were at the center of the last major tribal uprising against the central government in 1947, the first to fight the Soviets in the Konar in the 1980s and the first to stand up to the Taliban there in the 1990s.  It had taken years, dating back to 2003, for Jim to build his relationship with the Safi elder, Haji Jan Dahd…

~

The U.S. command could not have devised a better way to sabotage the Chowkay mission and alliance with the Safi tribe than by pulling Jim out in this way…

~

“They can think whatever they want,” Dan said of his commanders.  “But you know, and I know, and the people we worked with know, we have been honest with our country and tried our level best to win this war that has gone on for eleven years…”

~

Linn advised Jim again of the allegations against him: alcohol and drug use, misappropriation of fuel, misuse of government funds, and an inapropriate relationship with me…

~

In April, Jim obtained a copy of Lt. Col. Kirila’s complete Article 15-6 investigation into the alleged misconduct by him, Dan, and the rest of his team…

~

The investigation contained facts but also many false or inaccurate statements.  It recognized the achievements of Jim and his team, but also created a sensationalized, tabloid picture of Jim’s misdeeds…

~

As charges mounted against Jim, Dan and others who had served under him were being drawn into a widening witch hunt by the command in Afghanistan…

~

1st Lt. Thomas Roberts… meanwhile, was hailed by the chain of command as a whistle-blower and paragon of moral courage…

~

We learned that the qalat in Chowkay had been abandoned by Capt. Fleming and his team about a month after Jim and Dan were pulled out.  After the team alienated the arbakai, who in turn stopped manning the observation points in the high ground, Taliban attacks intensified again on the qalat.  The team lost critical intelligence on the Taliban that Jim had gained through his relationships with arbakai commander Sadiq and others.  Fleming decided occupying the qalat was untenable, and blamed it on Jim by claiming it was in a poor location…

~

One of the documents, found in bin Laden’s quarters, was an English copy of Jim’s paper, “One Tribe at a Time,” with notes in the margins…

~

Another document uncovered was a directive from Osama bin Laden to his intelligence chief.  The directive mentioned Jim by name, and said he was an impediment to Al Qaeda’s operational objectives for eastern Afghanistan and needed to be removed from the battlefield…

~

editor

Rawclyde

!

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