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US Army Colonel Reveals Failure of COIN and Barbarism of Afghans

Posted By Daniel Greenfield On October 10, 2012 @ 8:34 pm In The Point | 26 Comments

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security operations would be drawn from an Army manual that outlined counterguerrilla operations, which had long been superseded by Petraeus’ playbook.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.


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