Add this to the literature of investigations looking into the leadership of former Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade commander Col. Harry Tunnell: The No. 2 American general in Afghanistan once waned to oust Tunnell during his combat tour in 2009-10.
That insight comes from a new book by Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City.
An excerpt from Chandrasekaran’s Little America: The War within the War for Afghanistan focusing on Tunnell ran today in Slate.com. It’s another layer to the well documented dissonance between Tunnell and his NATO commanders.
Tunnell reportedly wanted an aggressive, offensive approach to the war centering on finding and killing the enemy. By that time of the war, NATO leaders wanted Tunnell’s soldiers to protect population centers and cultivate reliable information to better target insurgents.
Chandrasekaran writes “Tunnell’s soldiers once drove a Stryker with loudspeakers through a village during an insurgent’s funeral, announcing ‘This is what happens when you fight us.’ At a meeting with State Department officials, one Stryker officer dismissed a request that the brigade focus more on development, saying, ‘Come on, buddy, we’re just here to rack ’em and stack ’em.’
Tunnell’s leadership of the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division has been analyzed extensively because four soldiers under his command were convicted of murdering Afghan civilians in combat-like incidents they staged to fool their fellow infantrymen. An Army investigation concluded Tunnell was out of step with NATO, but not at fault for the killings.
Chandrasekaran’s book adds new names to the list of high-ranking officers who now say they had reservations about Tunnell and considered removing him from command. The author names Gen. David Rodriguez as one of those officers. Rodriguez was the No. 2 U.S. commander in Afghanistan. He now leads U.S. Army Forces Command.
Tunnell’s defenders say the colonel believed the best way to protect his soldiers was to take the fight to the enemy and disrupt insurgents’ ability to conduct attacks.
His critics maintain Tunnell set the wrong tone at an important moment in the war.
“We had a great opportunity,” Maj. Gen. Mick Nicholson told a fellow general, according to Chandrasekaran’s book. “Sadly, we lost a year.”