A special forces commander made legendary by his unorthodox but effective strategy was forced to retire because of an affair with a Washington Post reporter, ABC reports.
Jim Gant, a Green Beret major, was quietly relieved in March 2012 after 22 months in combat. He was charged with living in a “self-created fantasy world” full of alcohol, prescription drugs and a sexual affair with former Post reporter Ann Scott Tyson — all deep inside Taliban and al-Qaida territory.
But Gant and Tyson tell a different story in their book “American Spartan: The Promise, The Mission And The Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant.”
Gant was praised by Gen. David Petraeus for his ability to convert tribal villages to the American side of operations in Afghanistan.
“He clearly had grit. He had guts. He had intelligence,” Petraeus told ABC News. “He is one to whom we owe a debt of gratitude, even recognizing how things ended for him. Folks make mistakes, obviously.”
Instead of the usual capture-and-kill method of taking tribal lands, Gant “went native,” growing shaggy hair and a long beard while wearing Afghan clothes to blend with the local Pashtun tribes. In 2009, he wrote a pamphlet titled “One Tribe At A Time,” which argued instead of simply fighting and controlling land, soldiers needed to immerse themselves in the villages as a sort of “American tribesman.” (Related: US Military Flushes $3 Million Down The Drain)
This put Gant outside of the framework of military operations in the area. But instead of being reprimanded, Petraeus and Navy SEAL Adm. Eric Olson considered him one of the few who understood the nuances of the conflict.
However, he wasn’t without his vices. He fell in love with Tyson, who is a staunch defender of his tactics. They lived together in Mangwel, a village in the Kunar province on the Afghanistan border, and insurgent stronghold. Gant was recently divorced from his wife while Tyson was two years separated from her husband in Maryland. They had six children between them, Gant with two teenagers and Tyson with four college-aged.
The tribal chief of the area, Malik Noor Afzhal, also known as Sitting Bull to American forces, considered him family. Sitting Bull and Gant fought together in 2003.
Despite the victory, Gant was not impressed with the momentum U.S. troops were making when he arrived at the village in 2011.
“I am living in a qalat back in Mangwel, with my tribe in the Konar,” Gant emailed a journalist, who later joined ABC News. “I am trying to win. Not sure everyone is.”
For instance, instead of sending in specialized troops, a group of underprepared, barely trained soldiers from Kansas showed up as support. Gant trained them and encouraged them, against military regulation, to adopt local tribal clothing and grow long beards and hair in solidarity with the people of Mangwel.
“It wasn’t about our weapons or our body armor… it was gonna be about how we treated them. And it worked. It worked in a big way,” he told ABC News.
He made the Taliban fear him, often riding on the hood of his Humvee, and painted Spartan lambdas on the side of vehicles in direct defiance of the insurgents. Meanwhile, Tyson documented the whole ordeal. (Related: Taliban Cuts Off Index Fingers Of Afghan Voters)
“Tell everyone you come into contact with, ‘I did not come here to fight. I came here to help the people,’” Gant told tribal police in a 2012 video. “But if someone wants to fucking fight, they know where I am.”
He intimidated the Taliban and earned the respect of the tribes. Petraeus sang his praises and often took visiting American policymakers to the area to show Gants success. Gant always greeted them in tribal attire. Petraeus awarded Gant a Joint Service Commendation Medal, which he immediately gave to Sitting Bull.
“Without you, there is no me,” he told the chief.