The Washington Times this week adds a new layer to the long and winding story of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division with a report on how the Army turned down former commander Col. Harry Tunnell’s request for software that could have helped his soldiers plot the enemy’s buried bombs across southern Afghanistan.
The newspaper refers to the brigade as “ill fated.” It lost 37 soldiers in combat. The brigade’s 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment lost 21 of them, giving it the highest number of fatal casualties among any Army battalion in Afghanistan.
Tunnell reportedly requested software called Palantir that would have made it easier for soldiers to share information about the enemy’s improvised explosive devices. He asked for the software well before the brigade hit the ground in Kandahar in July 2009, but did not receive it until February 2010.
Here are comments The Washington Times obtained from Tunnell’s soldiers:
“Palantir has given my [intelligence unit] the ability to organize raw intel data, analyze what that data means, edit and organize possible cells, offers possible links to other enemy organizations and helps us focus on certain individuals if you are trying to track a certain flow,” the captain wrote in a report.
Another soldier, a brigade intelligence analyst, noted, “The only complaint I have is that we were not able to deploy initially with Palantir. We were trained and used the software successfully at [the National Training Center] and thought we would have it available to us upon deployment, so it was upsetting that we didn’t get it until much later in the deployment.”
A third soldier who specialized in acquiring intelligence from Afghan sources wrote, “There is no better system for ingesting all forms of electronic data and linking it all together. Nothing out there comes close.”
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., is investigating the Palantir contracts. The newspaper reporter that Hunter believes the Army pushed it aside to boost its own IED tracking software, the Distributed Common Ground System.
Tunnell’s brigade became known for the five soldiers who were accused of murdering of three Afghan civilians during their patrols. Four of them were convicted of unlawfully killing Afghans, and “kill team” ringleader former Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs received a life sentence for the murders.
Later, an Army investigation criticized Tunnell as out of step with his commanders because of his advocacy for a war plan that focused on killing insurgents more than protecting civilians.
The brigade was renamed as the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. It is deployed to Afghanistan and expected to come home in early 2013.