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US Colonel attacks: UK General, COIN, Afghan army, US army…

November 27, 2012

By Tim Foxley

Summary: A letter of complaint from a US Colonel in 2010 is critical of virtually every aspect of the international military effort in Afghanistan.  However, his anger must be seen in context.

This is a fascinating letter of complaint from a US Colonel, Harry Tunnell, about the situation in Afghanistan.  It is well worth reading in full, as it is articulate, passionate and brutal.  It was written in 2010 and Col Tunnell attacks virtually everyone and everything about the ISAF and US military experience in Afghanistan:

  • The British senior commander and British leadership were inept
  • The Afghan Army is incapable
  • US military doctrine, planning and tactics are poor
  • COIN is limiting the US Army and costing lives
  • US military leadership is weak and “elderly”

It has emerged more than two years after being written almost certainly because of the seriousness of the charges and to allow the military and political systems to absorb the blows and smooth things over – there are some very powerful criticisms in here:

The main problem that we are having in the war today is not one of enemy capability; it is a lack of professional competence…we are unwilling to conduct operations that reflect sound military art and science…

…a major contributing factor to the increase of enemy capability is the consistently poor military performance by MajGen Carter (UK) and his inadequately trained staff…

…RC(S) attempts to manipulate the public information environment are very to the point of being disingenuous

And this on the capabilities of the Afghan army:

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…Health and hygiene will not be maintained at an acceptable level…Aberrant sexual behavior is acceptable…Leaders have been known to sexually assault male subordinates…

And on the Taliban and the population:

…a main COIN assumption is that the population does not want what the Taliban have to offer.  This is an unbelievably flawed assumption…the average farmer in southern Afghanistan will appreciate far more what Mullah Omar is proposing that what we are with COIN…

And on the US Army:

We are a chronic failure as a military force due to the COIN dogma…degraded our willingness to properly, effectively, and realistically train for combat…US Army units are employed in ways that are grossly inconsistent with sound military tactics

You normally don’t get this level of anger unless someone feels they have been hard done by and want to redress the balance.  The letter can read directly as a critique of ISAF in Afghanistan or it can be seen as a fight back against his (Tunnell’s) treatment – he was investigated when troops from his brigade were found to have taken part in atrocities and he has now left the army.  Tunnell’s Brigade operations in Afghanistan were far more aggressive than other formations and his unit suffered many casualties, which critics of Tunnell would attribute to his excessively blunt and aggressive approach.  Tunnell (evident from the letter) rejected the tenets of counter-insurgency techniques – and it seems to be an indictment of the military system if Tunnell was allowed to ignore doctrine and “do his own thing” in Afghanistan, rather than be brought into line.

6 Comments leave one →
    • November 27, 2012 5:08 pm

      Ron, as did I! In a Montgomery vs Patton kind of showdown!

      • November 27, 2012 5:13 pm

        — giving credence to the phrase and concept, “we are of a mind”. A nice synchronicity.

  1. Moe permalink
    November 28, 2012 11:34 pm

    World War II needed Patton. Afghanistan 2012 does not. This war is a low intensity conflict, the enemy is not an existential threat. This man was responsible for soldiers who killed innocents, took their skulls for trophies, posed with dead teenagers like they were deer and other atrocious acts that prove nothing. Noting but motivation to pick up a gun and kill the Americans.

    If the Americans were going to invade, it should have been a punitive expedition aimed at AQ central. Instead it has evolved to another battle for Algeria.

    • November 29, 2012 1:08 am

      Thanks for the perspective.

    • November 30, 2012 11:18 am

      Moe, likewise, thanks for your thoughts and your WWII perspective – although even Patton was rightly chastised at the time for abusing junior personnel (the infamous “slapping” incident) in Sicily, in ’43, I think. But clearly, throughout the ages it can sometimes be a fine line between inculcating fighting spirit and incitement to commit atrocity. I’m not so clear on this part of Col Tunnell’s story, but I guess the buck stops with the brigade commander. I still felt that some of his assertions/critique about US and ISAF performance were at least worthy of highlighting. On your “motivation” comment, you might be interested in the piece I wrote here, which picks up your theme –



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