Thursday, April 21, 2011

Three cups of WHAT? How about a nice tall glass of FM 90-8 COUNTERGUERRILLA ASS-KICKING?

The less I add to the whole Mortenson imbroglio, the better. You've already heard a lot of opinions about this, I'm sure. Mine doesn't matter, but it's pretty close to what Ex said: it would be stupid to pretend like the lessons learned by the U.S. military about counterinsurgency are somehow invalid because Mortenson is a self-interested fabricator; it would be stupid to imagine that Mortenson influenced that institutional adaptation determinatively, instead of simply offering a clean popular referent for the military's COIN shorthand; and it would be stupid to believe that without Mortenson, U.S. soldiers and Marines would never have comprehended the importance of understanding the operational environment. Foust has a good take, reprinted in Greg Jaffe's piece on the subject:
“I’d say the biggest value of Mortenson’s work was in creating the ‘don’t be a jerk’ school of counterinsurgency,” said Joshua Foust, who worked as an Afghan analyst for the Army. “I think it would be a shame to abandon the idea of trying to respect the people you’re trying to reform with guns and money just because one of the people promoting the concept is shown to be a fraud.”
Plenty of people are going to try to tell you what all of this means for the military and whatnot, and I'll leave it to them. But Jaffe generally overstates, I think, the way Mortenson influenced the U.S. military's operational approach, and one of the anecdotes he offers as evidence of that influence in fact risibly demonstrates the tenuous connection between tea-drinking and tactical-level counterinsurgency.
Mortenson’s biggest impact, however, is evident in the writings of Army officers who embraced his call to tea. Last year, Lt. Col Patrick Gaydon and Capt. Jonathan Pan wrote of their alliance with Haji Abdul Jabar, a district governor in Afghanistan’s violent Arghandab district.
“Like Greg Mortenson’s best seller, Three Cups of Tea, our relationship with Jabar was forged over chai during the late summer and fall of 2009,” the two officers wrote in a piece for Small Wars Journal, a Web site where military officers debate battlefield strategy.
Jabar was courteous but reserved when he first met the two earnest soldiers. Once he came to know Gaydon and Pan, his reserve melted away, according to the officers, and Jabar treated them as family.
Jabar was killed as he drove home from work last June, a sign that “stabilization was working in Arghandab,” according to Gaydon and Pan. (The somewhat tortured thesis is that the Taliban killed him because his work with the Americans was winning the support of previously indifferent locals, thus threatening the Taliban’s power base.) The story could have been lifted right from the pages of Mortenson’s collected works.
It's appropriate that Jaffe references the "writings of Army officers" and chose the word "story" to describe Gaydon and Pan's tale, evocative as the term is of narrative and moral. (Anecdote, for example, connotes something different, and we should, I suppose, be thankful that it was merely the "writings of Army officers" that were greatly influenced, not their behaviors.)

Here's the big joke about Gaydon and Pan: when they were "forging relationships over chai during the late summer and fall of 2009," they were working at the brigade headquarters of the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (and writing occasional apologia for the boss). If that unit sounds familiar, it should: they took some of the heaviest casualties of any American unit in Afghanistan while conducting what brigade commander COL Harry Tunnell called a "counter-guerrilla" campaign. Tunnell's mentality was summed up by one of his soldiers, who later told Army investigators "if I were to paraphrase [a speech the colonel gave] and my impressions about the speech in a single sentence, the phrase would be: 'Let's kill those motherfuckers.'"

(5/2 SBCT might also ring some bells as the parent unit of one Calvin Gibbs and his "kill team," which has made news recently.)

Whatever will Harry Tunnell and his aggressive acolytes do now, what with the precipitous fall of their tea-drinking tactical messiah? Sorry, Jaffe, but you picked the wrong SWJ article.

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