Small Wars Journal

In Afghanistan, A U.S. Special Forces Major's Meteoric Rise And Humiliating Fall

In Afghanistan, A U.S. Special Forces Major's Meteoric Rise And Humiliating Fall by David Wood, Huffington Post

A once-promising strategy for stability in Afghanistan ended badly two years ago, along with the career of its author and chief proponent, Army Special Forces Maj. Jim Gant. His gripping story is detailed in a new book, American Spartan, by Ann Scott Tyson, the former Washington Post war correspondent who interviewed him for an admiring story in late 2009. They fell in love. Tyson eventually joined Gant in an Afghan village, where he built a reputation mobilizing local tribes against the Taliban.

A tough, wiry Special Forces soldier, Gant was decorated and recommended for promotion over 22 continuous months of combat in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. But in the end, the iconoclasm and disdain for military protocol that enabled Gant’s success were instrumental in his eventual downfall.

At his peak, Gant, now 46, posed such a threat to al Qaeda’s objectives that Osama bin Laden personally demanded his head, Tyson writes. Gant's lows came later, when he was accused by the military command of drinking and other violations, including keeping a "paramour,” and using tactics that recklessly endangered the lives of his troops. At the heart of the military's discomfort, Gant believes, was his insistence that he could trust his life, and those of his men, to the tribal Afghan fighters he'd trained and armed to reverse the Taliban’s spread across eastern Afghanistan…

Read on.

Comments

<a href="http://smallwarsjournal.com/content/tribal-engagement-workshop">The Tribal Engagement Workshop</a>, cosponsored by the Small Wars Foundation, the U.S. Joint Forces Command Joint Irregular Warfare Center, the U.S. Marine Corps Center for Irregular Warfare, the U.S. Army / U.S. Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center, and Noetic Group, was conducted 24-25 March 2010. Major Jim Gant was a key-note speaker.

<a href="http://smallwarsjournal.com/content/tribal-engagement-workshop">The Tribal Engagement Workshop</a>, cosponsored by the Small Wars Foundation, the U.S. Joint Forces Command Joint Irregular Warfare Center, the U.S. Marine Corps Center for Irregular Warfare, the U.S. Army / U.S. Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center, and Noetic Group, was conducted 24-25 March 2010. Major Jim Gant was a key-note speaker.

Dave Maxwell

Tue, 03/25/2014 - 2:43pm

Unfortunately there are more sides to every story. Linda Robinson, in her book, One Hundred Victories on pages 219-221, has a different description of the some of the circumstances surrounding Jim Gant in Afghanistan. That said Amazon is supposed to deliver Ms. Tyson's book today so I will have to read her narrative for myself.

Dave Maxwell

Tue, 03/25/2014 - 12:26pm

Unfortunately there are more sides to every story. Linda Robinson, in her book, One Hundred Victories on pages 219-221, has a different description of the some of the circumstances surrounding Jim Gant in Afghanistan. That said Amazon is supposed to deliver Ms. Tyson's book today so I will have to read her narrative for myself.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 12:01pm

In reply to by B.J. Aiello

BJ---the real story for me is his release of the article in 2009 and the heat, abuse and on some occasions outright disrespect in comments both in the blogger world and from DC pundits that the VSO which was really a take off on the SF CIDG program from VN would not work.

A lot of the heat came from inside SF as well---so it does not surprise me what in the end happened to him.

B.J. Aiello

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 2:57pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I am aware of the limitations of the embed program. I once had a very infamous former marine officer turned TV personality riding around with me in IRQ for awhile. The 'truth' was not his forte. But then again the 'truth' is subjective to the teller as you so aptly point out. His 'truth' did tell the DoD story. I would argue the independent jounalists in VN did no better and in many cases much worse.

I think we are in violent agreement, however we seem to be talking past each other. I was simply making the point that a single solitary violation of security policy is enough to get any OIC fired and end their career. It does not take away from my respect for the man's many battlefield accomplishments and heroics. I also have to assume that the book under review IS Jim's personal side of the story. The books author was the girlfriend/reporter whom is now his wife. I would assume she would not write anything antagonistic or defamatory about her husband. I also assume that she did nothing to compromise OPSEC for her future husband's team.

He was apparently brilliant at UW and FID. He was winning the war in his valley. The war should have been fought this way in every valley from the begining. Unfortunately it was not. Even SOCOM and ARSOC has mostly turned their back on these long term winning strategies in favor of short term SR and DA operations against HVTs.

The whole campaign is another national tragedy. Jim is just one of the many victims.

Luddite4Change

Fri, 03/28/2014 - 4:40pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Not every change or new policy that I have witnessed over my near 30 year career was a net positive, and I can point to several that I believe were downright negative or counter productive in the long run (FWIW, I put CENTCOM GO #1 near the top of my list).

Yes, we are way to risk averse, to slow to try new ideas, and unwilling to face the operational failures of the last 13 years; but, it doesn't give an officer an excuse to cross the disciplinary red lines.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 03/28/2014 - 1:07pm

In reply to by Luddite4Change

So let's see---good grooming standards, short hair cuts no women and alcohol allowed in a camp or FOB due to local customs equals what---winning or losing AFG?

If things in the 60-80s would not be tolerated now---is failure being tolerated---is the lack of a strategy that is getting people killed and wounded to be tolerated----is the wasting of taxpayers money to the tune of 4T USDs chasing jihadi's around the world and showing little to no results to be tolerated. Last time I checked this week AQ is very much alive and well and growing and it is what 13 years into the fight?

Sometimes standards that an organization wants to adhere to in fact inhibit that organization from being successful---have not seen anything by anyone one anywhere in the Force or DoD start the analysis of our failures---until that starts as long as someone is doing something that is effective against the enemy without standards is better that doing nothing against an enemy and having standards would you not agree?

We used to overuse the term "thinking out of the box" and lately I have not seen much of that if it ever did occur.

Luddite4Change

Fri, 03/28/2014 - 2:12am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

There were lots of things that went on in the services of the 50s/60s/70s and even 80s that are flat out not tolerated today. Its just the way it is. To justify some of his actions because they were OK in Vietnam, I think overlooks allot.

I'm not making a value judgement either way on some of his actions, its just way things are.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 3:08pm

In reply to by Luddite4Change

What really bothers me deeply about comments concerning Jim is the simple
fact that if one thinks the issues mentioned in say David Axe's comments or say the rebuke by the Army were justified---- totally and I mean totally overlooks the true fact that if one thinks the entire 5th SFGA in 10 years of war in VN did not have the same things going on---alcohol, drugs, women, and even yes SF personnel who had reputations for the enjoying of killing which got them on the top ten wanted list by the NVA and Hanoi Hannah are in another world.

Was it right in say a moral way---probably not---was it right within a military standard --no---but was the 5th highly successful in a war---yes it was.

By the way even with alcohol, drugs, women, and the love of killing by some SF the 5th SFGA was the highest decorated wartime US Army SF Group in the history of SF.

I remember starkly the debate that broke out when Jim released his article
"One Tribe at a Time" in 2009 in which the concept of VSO was first being discussed.

He took a major beating and one should have read the voices of doom and gloom on a program that made sense to no one at that time in 2009---and some even questioned openly his thinking.

So here we are five years after the article was written--and the core question remains was VSO a success or a failure?

AND if a failure---why then a failure?---I keep going back to an old SF UW saying---if at war win it or go under trying---did the Army really want the VSO program to really succeed? Did the Army really want to win in AFG?

IMHO---no to both questions.

Luddite4Change

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 2:34pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

His wife wrote the book, I hope she gave him an advance copy.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 1:35pm

In reply to by B.J. Aiello

An just how many of those embedded journalists actually reported reality on the ground in OIF/OEF?

Saw CCN at our FOB a number of times during the dark days of late 2005 through late 2006 and never a bad word was spoken for the American public---but neither was the truth on the ground ever told to the American public.

Remember even embedded journalists answered to DoD otherwise they did not get another invite to come back.

Do not want to guess how many SF in VN had girl friends in camp as well as in Saigon or how many Massage Parlors SF ran or how many Pilipino bands came into the NCO clubs for Friday/Saturday night bashes at SF companies.

IMO excuses can always be found to kick someone out if uncomfortable---even the 5th SFGA commander was accused in 1969 of murdering a triple agent and yet he later joined the very same CIA who refused to testify against him.

As David initially said---there is always two sides to a story and sometimes even three or four sides.

Someday I would like to hear Jim personally give his side but am assuming he wants nothing to do with SF or the Army after AFG and I am assuming he read the book prior to publication and thus approved what was in it by not saying anything.

B.J. Aiello

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 11:37am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I don't think my comment about a reporter in camp was weird. I am aware of the history of independent journalism during the Viet Nam War. The Army has/had a very robust embeded journalist program for the entire duration of OIF/OEF. The reporter in question (and author of the book under review in HuffPo) was not that. She was Jim's girlfriend. They were sharing sleeping quarters. The same sleeping quarters where he was storing classified documents...unsecured. Any army officer of any branch caught doing that should expect to be relieved and reprimanded.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 3:01am

In reply to by Luddite4Change

This is the single difference between the current SF and the "old" SF where when in not a combat environment the "rules" of military life were adhered to Monday through Friday but the weekends belonged to the teams.

In "hostile" environments the "rules" became lax for a number of reasons---the high ops tempo, the constant strain of unending combat, the lack of supplies from big Army, the constant losses---what drove everyone from teams to B teams to the Companies was mission accomplishment and senior leaders understood that.

Example---yes when high level Group visitors arrived in camp everything kind of looked normal to include uniforms etc. but when the copters left it was back to work and "lax" again.

This inward set of rules for the higher leaders was even understood by them and accepted due also for the same reasons.

The problem is that Jim went the way the entire AFG environment should have been fought from the beginning and senior leaders appear to be of another opinion thus we have actually failed.

In an insurgency environment such as AFG Jim went the only way possible and that rubbed both current SF senior leaders as well as regular army senior leaders the totally wrong way---WHY---because potentially it was working and was not the "normal" Army way.

Totally identifying with the personnel that one is advising coupled with lax local standards outwardly looks as a "poor military example" but towards the insurgent it is his worst nightmare.

Comments about reporters in camps is a weird comment especially when in VN a large number of independent writers/journalists/photographers often spent long periods with SF teams or we would take officers from other organizations out on patrols---so today that evidently is wrong but then "normal".

Luddite4Change

Tue, 03/25/2014 - 6:57pm

In reply to by B.J. Aiello

Like them or not, the "rules" still apply. Its one thing if its difficult to meet the letter of the requirement given the operating conditions, its another if you choose not to even try, or willfully ignore.

Its a shame, as I really believe that he was willing to accept significant risk to accomplish the larger mission. Something that we have lost as a professional institution over the years.

B.J. Aiello

Tue, 03/25/2014 - 11:08am

I haven’t read the book. I don’t know the man. I can only comment on what is in the Huff Post article. I agree with Morgan that “it sounds like Gant was operating as SF was designed to....alone and unafraid.” It also sounds like he was abusing alcohol and prescription narcotics which he maintained outside the control of the teams 18D (SF Medic). There is also an effective Female Engagement Team(FET) program to provide combat forces conducting counter insurgency the support they need in engaging the local women folk. Keeping your civilian reporter girlfriend in camp, and training her to be a combatant, is not part of that program. Acquiring a small safe for classified documents and keeping it under the control of the CQ/radio watch in the team’s operations room rather than in his personal sleeping quarters, does not seem beyond the capabilities of this supremely talented officer. Is it outside the bounds of reason to suppose that someone on his own team alerted higher headquarters to this erratic behavior?

His greatest flaw however is that he tried to win the war. Someone should have told him that apparently it is more profitable and supportive of national objectives to be the looser. A whole host of our most competent and effective warrior leaders have been humiliated and relieved or forced to retire during the span of the late unpleasantness. Attempting to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat was his unpardonable sin.

That being said, this man is my hero. I am part of the larger majority who participated in combat and did not enjoy it. The ability to take the fight to the enemy in such a personal way, time and time again is truly remarkable. What is more remarkable is that such men continue to serve voluntarily under feckless and bankrupt leadership.

Biggs Darklighter

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 10:41pm

I was shocked after reading about the fate of Jim Gant. If there ever was a living legend in Afghanistan, he was it. I had no idea he was run out of the service and thought he must be fast tracking up the career ladder by now. His punishment seems draconian and excessive when compared to his accomplishments and the operating environment he had to work in. Trying to abide by all the rules and accomplish the mission in that operating environment is like telling someone to drive from Los Angeles to New York in 48 hours without speeding, sleeping or eating. I think it's the Army's loss regardless.

Not being SF or knowing the nitty-gritty details of his "downfall", it sounds like Gant was operating as SF was designed to....alone and unafraid. Given that as well as the environment he and his team operated in, shouldn't one expect "rules" (especially those designed for conventional forces) to be bent?