What Would Obama’s Army Do If It Found the Contemporary Equivalent of Major Lawrence Enlisting the Tribes on its Side?
Answer: It would court martial him, reduce him in rank, and force him to retire.
The indictment of Jim Gant, a major in the U.S. Army Special Forces until his reduction in rank and compulsory retirement as a captain in 2013, is as follows. While leading the American effort to mobilize Afghan tribes against the Taliban in the Konar valley during 2011 and 2012, he drank alcohol. He used prescription pain medication that was not, in fact, prescribed for him by a physician. He stored explosives in his room, rather than in an approved space. He kept inappropriate materials of a sexual nature in his room. He exchanged government funds, and his own personal money, with Afghans for goods and services in a series of transactions that were not approved by his chain of command. He provided the Afghan tribal militias he was training with U.S. government gasoline, again without authorization. He falsified numerous documents in support of these unapproved transactions.
Additionallyâ€”and notablyâ€”during his time living among the Konar tribes he also regularly cohabited with his now-wife, Washington Post reporter Ann Scott Tyson, who participated in operations with the tribes and was granted access to classified information pursuant to those operations. Finally, to quote from a memo by a Brig. Gen. Christopher Haas and sent to Gant in April of 2012:
During your time in command, you purposely and repeatedly endangered the lives of your Soldiers. You taught, and ordered executed, [SIC] unconventional and unsafe â€˜figure-8â€™ immediate actions in response to enemy contact. You painted inappropriate and unauthorized symbols on Government vehicles, painted the symbol on your vehicle a different color, then challenged the enemy to try and kill you without consideration to your Service Membersâ€™ lives or well being. [SIC] You sent â€˜night lettersâ€™ to the enemy, further drawing dangerous attention to yourself and subordinates. These are the same Soldiers that you have the duty to properly train, mentor, lead, and most importantly, defend.
In March 2012, when the curtain finally descended on Major Gantâ€™s operation in the Konar, his superiors sent a U.S. Army Special Forces team to seize his camp and to arrest him and his second-in-command. Yet Gantâ€™s soldiersâ€”young infantrymen from a regular battalion, earlier provided to Gant instead of the seasoned special operations team that he had been promisedâ€”wept openly. The Afghan tribesmen who maintained the position jointly with the soldiers warned the newly arrived team not to handcuff Maj. Gant. Things might get ugly. Shortly after his removal, several Konar tribes sent a deputation of dozens of elders to petition the provincial governor, Fazllulah Wahidi, to ask Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the U.S. Army to allow Gant to return to the valley.
With such an extensive list of charges against him, what had Jim Gant done to be so popular with his own soldiers, and with the Afghans among whom he lived?
He had won.
But David Axe doesn’t care about Gant’s success. The man violated chickenshit Army regulations. He drank, used drugs, and armed his girlfriend. We can’t have our wars won by men capable of breaking rules.
Tyson took a leave of absence from The Washington Post and joined Gant in Kunar in late 2010, ostensibly in order to write American Spartan. But Tysonâ€™s experiences with the Special Forces in Kunar were more intimate than a typical media embedâ€”something Wood fails to point out.
Gant taught Tyson to use Special Forcesâ€™ weapons, presumably including, at a minimum, assault rifles and handguns. â€œOn missions with Gant and his team, she wore U.S. military fatigues and tucked her hair up under a ballcap,â€ Wood writes. â€œHer job in a firefight was to pass ammunition to the turret gunner.â€
Iâ€™ve embedded dozens of times with a dozen different armiesâ€”once even with Army Special Forces. My hosts never offered to train me on their weapons. In several firefights, no one ever assigned me the job of handing out ammo. I never wore military fatigues, in part because I didnâ€™t want anyone to mistake me for a soldier.
Because Iâ€™m not one. It seems that in the company of a warrior she greatly admiredâ€”and was growing to loveâ€”Tyson forgot that sheâ€™s not a soldier, either.
The Pentagon doesnâ€™t authorize journalists to participate in combat. When reporter Michael Yon, himself a former Green Beret, picked up a rifle and opened fire to help protect a wounded American soldier in Iraq in 2005, it whipped up a bureaucratic shitstorm inside the Pentagonâ€”and what one news report described as â€œa stern reprimand from the Armyâ€ for Yon.
But Wood gives Gant a pass for more or less enlisting Tyson. â€œThey argue in the book that her presence was a useful link to village women and helped cement ties between the Americans and the Afghans,â€ Wood writes.
It doesnâ€™t occur to him that, in fact, the mere presence of an unmarried woman in a formal setting might be highly offensive to conservative Afghans.
Besides arming his girlfriend journalist, Gant broke lots of other Army rules in Kunar. He drank alcohol and took sleeping pills, painkillers and â€œother pharmaceuticals,â€ according to Wood. Gant kept classified documents in his room, in violation of specific government guidelines for securing secret information.
â€œYes, I broke those rules and I never say I didnâ€™t,â€ Gant told Wood. â€œBut I mean, weâ€™re not talking rape, murder, stealing property.â€ …
Most Green Berets donâ€™t take their girlfriends, booze and drugs to war with them. They certainly donâ€™t need lovers and gullible reporters to write elaborate defenses of their combat records.
Gant is no hero. His behavior in Afghanistan was unacceptable. And no hagiography… can redeem the manâ€™s shameful legacy.
Hat tip to Sarah Jenislawski.