Thursday, October 14, 2010

Putting some perspective on the effects of Tunnell's worldview of COIN

Colonel Harry D. Tunnell, IV, did not and does not believe in the efficacy of population-centric counterinsurgency, reports the Washington Post. Whether intentional or not, this article suggests that it's possible that Tunnell's views on how to wage the war in Afghanistan led to the actions of the now-infamous "kill team." Bullocks. Spencer addressed this "looming question" this morning over at Danger Room. Ackerman states, "If the "Kill Team" is found guilty, it'll likely spark a painful debate within the Army about the relationship between his anti-counterinsurgency approach and some of his men's crimes." I surely hope such a debate isn't sparked because it is not a real debate and shouldn't be had. There are lots of commanders who despise pop-COIN that didn't have murderers in their units. And there is a huge difference between wanting to kill Taliban by the truck load and killing civilians for fun. Huge difference. Tunnell seems like an old school commander in many ways who would never condone such activities in his unit. I have no idea what lead to the activities of the "Kill Team", but it seems to me to be the ring leader and poor leadership at the platoon and company. But I don't know. I think Whitlock's suggestions that because Tunnell didn't believe in COIN, his soldiers then went out to kill civilians is irresponsible. There is no merit to this argument - especially given that Gibbs apparently did similar things in Iraq when he didn't work for Tunnell.

There's also another aspect to this story outside of the murders - Tunnell's non-adherence to the COIN strategy of the time. At Commentary, Max Boot says that the Army "clearly has to do a better job of making sure that all those in such important combat commands have a better understanding of counterinsurgency doctrine." I take issue with this as well; that's not what the Army needs to do at all. What the Army needs to do is fire commanders who don't adhere to their commander's guidance. This isn't about COIN (like Whitlock and Boot suggest) - this is about unity of effort and unity of command. From the perspective of ISAF, who cares what Tunnell thinks about COIN? If he's ordered to do it he has to do it. His not executing COIN, per his orders, is a failure of ISAF and RC-South commands in not controlling their subordinate units. I find this appalling. Just as I would if ISAF ordered him to do enemy-centric operations and Tunnell decided he was going to do pop-COIN. Tunnell's failure to adhere to his superiors' guidance is an abrogation of his duties as a commander.

Whitlock's article is interesting. But let's all put this story in perspective - a failure to do COIN doesn't create murderers and ISAF doesn't have the cojones to enforce it's own policies. Those are the take-aways.


  1. These "Kill Teams" can never sprout in the Marines. 1). The Marines get COIN, from PC-COIN to Colonial COIN. and 2). Small unit leadership.

    What's keeping the Army from replicating what the Marines have done?

    This all reminds me of Oliver Stone's "Platoon". It's very important to have a Sgt. Elias (Dafoe's character) in any small unit. OR else your Sgt Barnes will dictate the small unit's character.

  2. Yeah, the big takeaway, for me, was "How could COL Tunnell possibly not have been relieved of command?", especially after BG Nicholson had that "chat" with him. And the company commander, too. Also interesting that Tunnell got rid of one of his battalion commanders before deployment.

    On the "Kill Team" stuff (which I agree is basically a separate issue) it is troubling, I think, that Gibbs was on COL Tunnell's PSD and was then moved.

  3. @ Anonymous. I don't know that that's necessarily true. The Marines have also had problems with murders in Iraq - even if not to the extent of this current issue. The Marine Corps is also a smaller organization (especially when you look at numbers in theater compared to the Army), which makes it easier to focus on leadership. That's not to say the Army isn't doing that for the most part, it's just harder for higher commands to pay attention to the ins and outs of squad-level activities.

    And @ Tintin, I'm not so concerned with Tunnell's personnel policies. Commanders reassign and fire people for all sorts of reasons that might seem dubious to an outside observer. I think conjecturing that somehow the murders and the reassignment of Gibbs are connected is a stretch at this point. I had reassigned people from my vehicle crews for a hell of a lot less than murdering people.

  4. @ Guns,

    But in the Marine Corps these types of crimes are meted out quickly, not allowed to linger and fester.

    I'm sure size of bureaucracies play into this, but small unit leadership has been the staple of the Marine Corps.

  5. plus it's not just this current issue, various kill teams in the Army have been covered by the media, which continue their crime spree in CONUS.

  6. There are lots of commanders who despise pop-COIN that didn't have murderers in their units.

    I had the same thoughts. It's a strange extrapolation and a difficult one to make based on the information available to date, isn't it?

  7. ....five soldiers have been accused of killing unarmed Afghan men, apparently for sport, and desecrating their corpses. Seven other platoon members have been charged with other crimes, including smoking hashish - which some soldiers said happened almost daily - and gang-assaulting an informant.

    I'm in over my head on all but if the above is accurate, doesn't all of that hint at bigger problems than "not doing COIN"?

  8. Okay, that came out wrong. Not hint at - obviously bigger problems existed.

    The acts besides the murders sound sordid and poorly disciplined too.

  9. (Bigger Stronger Faster documentary 1 of 11)

    You guys should watch this documentary, it relates to why the Killer Teams came about.

  10. I agree with Lil - nice post yet again, Gunslinger.


  11. Why was the 5/2 even deployed especially after their total failure at the NTC where the Divison Cmdr, the Division Senior Trainer and the NTC Cmdr all had private discussions with the BCT Cmdr.

    Yes there were issues and had the unit been redlined and not deployed a number of their personnel would still be alive and the murder of civilians would not have occurred!

    It is all about the Cmdr.