Posted by: EMS | 19 September 2010

Face of Evil (Updated)

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.)

Update:  Lots of good points being brought up in the comments.  (Thanks to Crispin’s, Tom’s, and Ex’s readers for stopping by.)   A couple points to highlight:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)


  1. As tragic as this incident is you are way out of your lane with your what it and I told you so. You are eminently unqualified to make these kind of judgements.

  2. Joe: please outline for me the qualifications of someone who could make these kind of judgments.

  3. Someone who has served in the military and not just out there as combat zone tourist and COIN/Marine groupie. Wannabee’s don’t get a vote.

    • Seems to me they do get a vote, Joe. A more impactful, better informed one than you.

    • Marine groupie, yes.

      Unqualified, no.

      Civilians, even those with PhDs, can recognize a destructive command climate when we see it. (And there are plenty with right arm patches who agree with my assessment.)

  4. Check the poor performance of the SBCT during their NTC predeployment rotation—the Div. Sr. Trainer, the Division Cmdr and the NTC Cmdr all almost relieved the SBCT Cmdr for poor performance. Could not as the ISAF Cmdr had declared he needed a SBCT and they were the only one available to deploy immediately.

    Check the InkSpots Blog article on the 5/2SBCT and then no one needs to wonder why the killings took place.

    This SBCT was a loose cannon.

    • Thx, Gordon. I’m glad you mentioned 5/2’s NTC record, as I had heard it discussed but did not have first hand knowledge. They were re-assigned to Afg late in the game, but Tunnell’s counter-guerrilla approach wasn’t appropriate for either theater.

      Someone probably thought they were doing him (and ISAF) a favor by not relieving him. They did not. Relief is not the worst thing that can happen to an officer…

  5. […] the hell were the NCOs?’  The leader of this group was a staff sergeant but c’mon.  This sort of thing doesn’t happen in secret. …we worked extensively with this brigade while I was in RC South earlier this year.  And I […]

  6. Erin — Because it was mentioned above, here’s what I wrote about 5/2 SBCT, COL Tunnell, and their experience in the Arghandab several months ago. Also had a commenter make the same points about their NTC rotation as I see here on this mid-June post when the news of the murders first came out. I had speculated about a parallel to 3/101 (home of “The Kill Company”), but felt sort of inappropriate doing so without any more details.

    I should note that I don’t know any of the people involved, and have never even been a “war zone tourist,” just in case that destroys my cred.

  7. Oh yeah, and I should also note that I ran into a captain who had earlier commanded in 5/2 at a conference at Carlisle earlier this year, and he didn’t have one good thing to say about Tunnell’s leadership of the brigade. Full disclosure: he was a close friend of Jason Kassulke.

  8. I’m sure you would and could fire a lot of contractor’s who said they had a “clean shot” on an individual they killed in the line of duty / during motorcade movement in Afghanistan. I wish you were working for the Government Charlie and not just a consultant.

    I know plenty, who have been fired for unjustified acts, just to say they got a taste of combat. Crazy and sad at the same time, and happy all were sent home packing.

    Charlie… you’re a bright girl. If I had a chance, I’d ask you out for a drink sometime.

    Would you date a Maverick?

    P.S. I do look like the Mav, and not the Les Grossman 2.0 version.

  9. Why would this less likely happen in the Marines?

    What’s the difference between the two organizations?

  10. This is right from the movie, “Platoon”.

  11. Three words:

    Small Unit Leadership

    Enough said.

    • That’s 5 words!

  12. Dude, would love to read this piece, but the font is killer on the eyes.

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