The U.S. is facing an uphill battle in the Middle East. Both Iraq and Afghanistan are turning into problems for the administration, including the onslaught of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria toward Baghdad and the growing Taliban insurgency. It seems that despite being involved in military operations in the area for more than a decade, the U.S. just does not know how to handle the wars from any angle.
But one man does.
Recently, The Daily Caller featured a story about former Special Forces Maj. Jim Gant and former Washington Post reporter Ann Scott Tyson and their time spent among the tribes in eastern Afghanistan’s Konar province. Scott documents their time there in the new book “American Spartan: The Promise, the Mission, and the Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant.”
Gant fought the Taliban unconventionally by living with the tribes and essentially becoming one of them while Tyson documented the experience. He routinely wore traditional Afghan clothing and fought alongside the tribes in territory occupied heavily by Taliban and al-Qaida forces. It was because of this technique he was nicknamed “Lawrence of Afghanistan,” after T.E. Lawrence, who utilized similar strategies during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks in 1916.
That was until some Special Forces higher-ups decided Gant’s technique was too unorthodox and shut his team down.
“Well, obviously it was a very difficult time,” Gant said in an interview with The Daily Caller. “It was very painful, mainly because I had put so much into what was going on there. I was deeply invested in the mission. I was deeply invested into my Afghan comrades and my American soldiers and it was a really, really painful thing to deal with.”
Gant was initially met with praise, including that of Gen. David Petraeus who has staunchly defended his techniques. His pamphlet on a strategy to winning the war titled “One Tribe at a Time” was hailed by many in the armed forces and he was given what he describes as a lot of resources and authority to conduct his mission of joining the tribes.
But as his first commanders moved on to different assignments or returned to the U.S., Gant faced criticism, red tape and personal differences from new bureaucrats.
“As time passed and these great commanders rode it out and went back to the states, I did get some people in there that were much more risk-averse and sprinkled throughout there, there were some people who I had some personal issues with and all that stuff just built up,” Gant said. “Slowly, over the course of time, mission creep settled in and it became a very, very difficult situation to deal with.”
They also had hang-ups with his character, including living with Tyson against military protocol, as well alcohol and prescription drug abuse caused by PTSD and an injury from an IED explosion. Eventually, Gant was taken out of combat, demoted to captain and forced to resign.
But that doesn’t mean he was ineffective. Petraeus and Adm. Eric Olson both praised his techniques and called him one of the most important tools to the military effort in the Middle East. Petraeus, who has been notoriously reclusive lately, gave his first public interview since his sex scandal at the CIA with ABC’s James Meek in defense of Gant.