US Army Colonel Reveals Failure of COIN and Barbarism of Afghans

The letter from Colonel Harry Tunnell is making its rounds around the internet, but here are some choice and relevant excerpts. But first a shot bio of Tunnell.

Tunnell had been gravely wounded in Iraq, where he led a battalion of paratroopers with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. In October 2003, his convoy was ambushed by insurgents near the city of Kirkuk.

Despite his emphasis on education, Tunnell had a dim view of the intellectual underpinnings of counterinsurgency theory. He didn’t think insurgencies were defeated by protecting villages and winning over residents through reconstruction and development projects. He believed that the top priority was to kill the bad guys.

By the time Tunnell took over the brigade, every other infantry commander preparing to go to Iraq or Afghanistan was using Gen. Petraeus’ COIN manual as his lodestar. But not Tunnell. He told his soldiers that their approach to security operations would be drawn from an Army manual that outlined counterguerrilla operations, which had long been superseded by Petraeus’ playbook. Instead of emphasizing the protection of civilians, it instructed commanders to “give priority to destroying the guerrilla forces.” He called his unit the “Destroyer Brigade” and ordered that its vehicles be painted with the motto SEARCH AND DESTROY.

The Colonel speaks generally on the conflict

“The willingness to combat an enemy cannot be turned on and off like a light switch. Leaders are willing to conduct operations at the tactical and operational levels of war to decisively defeat the enemy or they are not. Soldiers join the military today to protect the United States, yet they are told once in Afghanistan that we are fighting for the Afghan people– this is a rather mercenary outlook and ignores the fact that the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001. If we have an army led by people unwilling to defeat a disorganized illiterate adversary such as we face today, even after a despicable surprise attack on our nation, there is little hope that we can defeat a modern sophisticated enemy that we may face in the future.”

He addresses the COIN (Counterinsurgency) disaster in some detail

The COIN doctrine that does exist consists of musings from amateurs, contractors, plagiarized journal articles, etc. It is not professional and relevant because it does not reflect the studied body of best practice– the concepts it promotes, in fact, contribute to needless American casualties.

COIN has become such a restrictive dogma that it cannot be questioned; any professional discussion about its strenghts and weaknesses is discouraged. It has reached such a crisis that those who employ other Army doctrinal concepts do so at their own professional peril because they will be subject to censure for not adhering to COIN. This has created a dysfunctional and toxic leadership throughout our army which has resulted in poor organization, unrealistic training and indecisive battlefield performance.

And then tells the following, almost unbelievable, story

Worst of all COIN dogma has degraded our ability to properly, effectively and realistically train for combat. As the commander of 5/2 ID (SBCT) I was continually badgered not to conduct brigade maneuver live fire training before deploying because NTC leaders deemed that we were already “too lethal” of an organization. As a military historian I am simply not familiar with the concept of an infantry brigade being too lethal and thus denied live fire training.

He critiques the politically correct consequences of COIN

“A gross lack of concern for subordinates manifests in guidance that “zero” civilian casualties are acceptable and coalition soldiers may have to be killed rather than defend themselves against a potential threat and risk being wrong and possibly resulting in injury or death of civilians.”

Population-centric approaches to war have resulted in senior officers are almost pacifistic in their approach to war; while they may have a public persona that seems offensively spirited that is not the reality when they are issuing guidelines to subordinates.”

And then tells the truth about the barbarism of our Afghan allies.

It is unlikely that Afghan security forces will be able to conduct independent operations with any degree of reliability because of a lack of technical skills. For example they do not have the ability to maintain vehicle fleets very well– most Afghans simply cannot drive.

Afghan males are among the greatest misogynists in the world. The Burqa is not a Taliban invention; it is a Pashtun norm.

Afghan military units– particularly small outposts, are bastions of filth. Rudimentary latrine facilities such as slit trenches are absent, even “cat holes” are unheard of. Afghans will select a room, if they are in a compound and use it for a latrine. If they are in an outdoor outpost, they defecate without measures to burn or discard the excrement.

Aberrant sexual behavior is acceptable… There is an acceptance of pedophilia that is widespread and boys are sometimes kidnapped. Leaders have been known to sexually assault male subordinates– even if sexual activity between males is consensual, it has implications for good order and discipline, which is why in many armies fraternization is not allowed.

NCOs cannot perform basic leadership and supply accountability functions well because they are largely illiterate. NCOs cannot manage clothing records for their illiterate soldiers, they cannot maintain weapons and equipment accountability if they cannot read a serial number, they cannot read an operations order for a tactical mission.

And finally a statement from the Colonel that has much wider applications to our efforts in the Muslim world.

Finally, a main COIN assumption is that the population does not want what the Taliban have to offer. This is an unbelievably flawed assumption… it might be more correct to assess that the population does not like how the Taliban deliver.

Now that you’ve read through all that, here’s an excerpt from his less classified writing.

Military leaders must stay focused on the destruction of the enemy. It is virtually impossible to convince any committed terrorist who hates America to change his or her point of view—they simply must be attacked relentlessly. … It is appropriate for military units to develop goals that include appreciating local culture, improving quality of life for the populace, and promoting good governance whenever these concepts improve access to the enemy. However, if the pursuit of them does not advance one’s knowledge of threats and a unit’s capability to maintain the offensive, then they are of little practical value as tactical or operational objectives. Destruction of the enemy force must remain the most important step to defeating terrorists and insurgents.

  • Drakken

    Finally!!!!!!!!! Someone who bloody well gets it !!!

    • Daniel Greenfield

      He's not the only one, but people like this get purged fast.

      • Drakken

        I am afraid you are completely correct, the good Col next assignment will be a basement office in the pentagon. The warriors are be pushed out in favor of the syphophant wishful thinkers, this will not end well.

    • 2BlueStars

      Anyone who has stepped outside of the wire gets it, however as the article states, you are not allowed to say it!

  • Thomas Wells

    The other side of the COIN.

  • The Hammer

    Great post! But scary as hell to think we actually have soldiers in the field who are not supposed to fight.

    Dan – I really like your posts – many of them very funny, although unnerving. My hope is that the West will finally wise up – there are some signs of this. Keep the information flowing – educating the West about the true Islam is the best way to defeat global jihad.

  • Chezwick

    Harry Tunnell….remember the name folks. One way or another, his significance to our country will transcend his military service.

    • Tom

      They are running him out of the Army…

  • 2getherweserved

    If only the rest of the Armed Forces was this Honest and Forthcoming. Semper Fi

    • Guest

      "This we'll defend". He's Army.

  • Winston Churchill

    If the US forces are not prepared to fight, as the honorable Colonel Tunnell has so vivdly pointed out, then the US forces should get out of all the countries they are embattled in. It is utterly unethical and immoral to put US forces in harms way because of this self hating pc policy.There is no point having an armed force if it is only pretending to be at war. War requires you kill your enemies before they kill you. It is really that simple. The Colonel should be promoted to General, and when Romney wins the presidency, General Tunnell should unleash a force of fire upon the enemies of the US ,so fierce, not seen since WW2. This is the only way to deal with irrational and barbaric enemies. Their reality is couched in force and might, that they wish to impose over their own people and us "infidels". If they are crushed they will cower before a resounding US might.

  • Fabio Juliano

    This guy should be the Chairman of the Joint chiefs instead of the despicable politically correct hack Martin Dempsey.

    • joe get

      Amen to that!

  • JeremyBeadleshand

    I knew that Afghanistan was a disgusting country but I didn't know That they are so vile as to just turn random rooms in their bases into toilets. I bet even cavemen didn't live like that. If you've ever seen before and after pictures of kabul from the 50s to today You should know it shouldn't really be that much of a surprise to me How incapable they are of living like humans under their own power.

  • Ernie Webb

    Welcome to the real world, people. LTC Tony Herbert and I had this same fight with the hierarchy and the politicians in Vietnam — read his book SOLDIER. When he reported the –then– 173d Brigade Commander– then a brigadier general–for trying to cover-up war crimes— guess who got promoted– and who got forced out of the army? Thirty years later, the US Army released all the classified docs and admitted that Herbert had been right all along– there were multiple war crimes. Why wait so long t ‘fess up? The Army did not want to embarrass the general!!!!! Truth and honor be damned! How the Afghans live is none of our damned business— but the weak and corrupt adctions of our own leaders IS OUR BUSINESS— too many soldiers die and are wounded because our leaders faill to practice proper — and correct– combat actions– a bunch of mothers and fathers owe a debt of thanks to Col Tunnell– because their sns will come home whole.

    • Stu Sherard

      Ernie: Thanks for your comments. Well said. I also think Col Tunnell has it right but will suffer for his comments. Probably no General Officer in his future. We have sold out to PC. Dangerous. Stu

    • Vicki Dunmire Crowther

      I think the point he is trying to make with remarks about how they live is that they are uneducated barbarians – hardly capable of the assumption of taking over defense of their own country in any meaningful, lasting way. Let's not seize on the minutiae of his observations, rather take them in totality as he is painting a picture of reality on the ground.

  • Cynic

    ” He didn’t think insurgencies were defeated by protecting villages and winning over residents through reconstruction and development projects. ”

    How right he was.
    It seems that the idiots who refuse to acknowledge the tribal/clan culture can try and project their fuzzy/warm feeling ideas onto a 7th century way of life.
    Did they for one minute believe that it was impossible that the insurgents came from the very villages the Americans intended to protect, for the greater tribal good?

  • 2BlueStars

    A great article that articulates what we already know but nobody will speak of!

  • JALU3

    One of the greatest failures, in my humble opinion, is that during the decade plus we have been there, we have little to nothing in attempting to influence the culture in way that gets the populace to support our policies and our presence (which is there ultimately to benifit their safety and advancement). As the Colonel said, it may not be that they do not like what it is that the Taliban stands for, but how it is delivered. This is a failure rooted in political correctness mindset of cultural relativism. COIN, definitely needs to be a two sided operation, that also incorporates force of arms to neutralize and/or kill the enemy. If we look at successful COIN campaigns, they involved the use of force to either kill the enemy or. To persuade them to lay down their arms and incorporate themselves into the new reality. For instance, see the Philippines. Although there were violations of the Laws of War on both sides, one crutial initiative undertaken by American Forces was the implementation of an education system that supported the efforts and actions of the soldiers in the field. Some of the first American educators were Soldiers. Perhaps we can learn from our past, and from our recent mistakes.

    • Drakken

      The only waty your going to change their primative culture is by the point of a gun, kill all the religious leaders and burn every mosque to the ground, enforce by mailed fist western norms and then you might have a chance. Untill then, the COIN strategy is nothing more than lip service and wishful thinking.

  • Jeff K

    I was a contractor in 02 based in Kabul. 65% of homes in Afghanistan at that time had no toilet facilities, not even an outhouse. They went in vacant lots before dawn to empty their bowels. This was in Kabul. During the day a man could turn to a wall to relieve himself but a woman had to hold it until dark. Consequently Afghan women have the highest incidence of urinary infection in the world.

    Roger all on the illiteracy, pedaphilia, misogyny and the rest. All true statements.

  • H Hawkins

    "…I am simply not familiar with the concept of an infantry brigade being too lethal…" We desperately need a President who will stand up at his inauguration and repeat this words to the world. A new policy is needed to only go to war when the Congress agrees, the Nation agrees, and the President is prepared to throw everything on the battlefield we have. "If you are going to take Vienna, take Vienna!"

  • Jason

    All of you are so wrong about this guy. I served under him in the 5th STRYKER BDE. He is a monster who should be in jail for the things he has done!

    • Charlie Stover

      Really? Like what? Don't besmirch with generalities and then hide behind the anonymity of the web. Harry is a hero who has fought bravely for our country, Sack up, mister, and state your case with clarity. Don't be a coward with your comments. Charlie Stover.

  • Charles

    Too lethal? How can anything that has to do with war be too lethal? If a war machine is too lethal then it no longer a war machine. I learned in Navy Boot Camp, many years ago, that in no matter what capcity I serve the military in I am part of a machine that kills.Whether working in a mess hall, motorpool, flight line or in a line company, as I do now in the Army.

  • Josh J

    I was a soldier in that brigade and was deployed with them and wanted to make a correction: the vehicles were painted with the brigade’s motto “Strike and Destroy, not “Search and Destroy” as the article suggests.