I wish I had something insightful to say about this.
The U.S. soldiers hatched a plan as simple as it was savage: to randomly target and kill an Afghan civilian, and to get away with it.
But frankly, it just strikes me as evil.
How do we keep this from happening again? This a failure of leadership and moral courage, but also banal bureaucracies.
(One note: we worked extensively with this brigade while I was in RC South earlier this year. And I have little doubt the permissive, savage command climate emanated from the top. There were multiple opportunities (and calls) to relieve the brigade commander following a disastrous performance in Arghandab; instead the RC South commander reassigned the battalions and developed a new mission for the brigade. Had the Army (or Generals Rodriguez or McChrystal) relieved the CO in November or December 2009 these horrific abuses may have been thwarted.)
- Gulliver at Ink Spots has an exhaustive post from January that provides some really interesting context for COL Tunnell’s command. (Friend of Charlie, Tintin, was a key contributor.) Fascinating reading, and not because it’s one-sided. COL Tunnell is not himself savage; I’m certain he is indeed horrified by the actions of these few soldiers. But he should also be horrified that none of his officers or NCOs observed or reported such actions. He set that command climate, and he remains responsible for it.
- To follow on from Gulliver, note: LTC Jenio was relieved from 2-508 for inappropriate powerpoint slides. COL Tunnell was largely believed to have failed in his mission in Arghandab (a difficult mission, one that his unit wasn’t prepared for as their deployment was switched late in the pre-deployment cycle from Iraq to Afghanistan). He was allowed to remain in command, receiving a mission set specially designed (read: made-up) for his Strykers. Add this to the list of things that will and won’t get you fired.
- As I note in the comments, Army and ISAF officials may have believed they were doing COL Tunnell (and themselves) a favor by leaving him in command. They were not. There are worse things that can happen to an officer than being relieved.
- But this is not about a cult of personality. This was a failure in command climate, beginning with platoon sergeants and working its way up the chain. Presumably the Army investigation will look into who knew what and when. But we can all agree that it’s coming a little late to the party. (And of course the whole Al-Capone-0n-tax-evasion element to the hash-bust-cum-war-crimes-investigation is but the clearest signal of an epic failure in leadership.)