The story of former Green Beret Major Jim Gant’s time in Afghanistan is an astounding one. ABC News has an extensive interview with Gant and a deep dive into the how Gant went from being considered an innovative, if unconventional leader in the fight against the Taliban—referred to as “Lawrence of Afghanistan”—to being thought of within military circles as a Kurtz-like character, who broke rules, got too close to local villagers, and even had a secret wife living with him in the dangerous Kunar Province.
Here’s how the story started for Gant in Afghanistan via ABC News:
Four years ago, some influential, high-level military officers believed that Gant held the key to winning the war in Afghanistan… Gant wrote a startlingly blunt 45-page pamphlet, “One Tribe At A time” in 2009. He declared the U.S. was “losing the war in Afghanistan” and could only succeed there by earning the loyalty of the country’s Pashtun tribes -– which meant troops had to go native… He proposed “tribal engagement teams” who would live inside villages and allowed to be “American tribesmen…” As Gant had urged, small teams of operators would leverage the tribal honor code, Pashtunwali, by living with, eating with, fighting with and even dying with tribesmen willing to take on the insurgents.
Gant got a dozen infantrymen from a Kansas unit who were untested and in some cases barely knew how to use their weapons… He trained them literally overnight and they soon grew full beards and adopted tribal appearance, voluntarily shedding uniforms and body armor for shalwar kameez clothing, pokol caps and scarves. They had to show [the] tribe that they did not fear being killed by their Afghan friends, Gant argued. Their Afghan clothing, therefore, was their protection.
By the time he was yanked out of Afghanistan two years later… Gant also had won over three Pashtun tribes with substantial influence throughout Kunar province. Top commanders had tasked him with turning the tide of a conflict America was losing, and in his corner of the war, Gant was winning.
“He clearly had grit. He had guts. He had intelligence,” David Petraeus, former commander in Afghanistan 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.”
The mistakes led to Gant being stripped of his rank in the special forces and a forced early retirement in March 2012. By the end, Gant was charged with “’[indulging] in a self-created fantasy world’ of booze, pain pills and sex in a tribal village deep in Taliban and al Qaeda country with his ‘wife,’ journalist Ann Scott Tyson.”
Here’s more from ABC News on Gant’s battlefield romance with Ann Scott Tyson, a former war correspondent for the Washington Post, who quit her job, and left her family, to secretly live with Gant in the Afghan village where he was posted.
Both Gant and Tyson, one of America’s most experienced war correspondents, were in troubled marriages when they decided to live out their battlefield romance for nine months in a hotly contested Afghan mountain range along the bucolic Kunar River… Each was in a marriage on the ropes and each had four kids.
Tyson too dressed in tribal clothing made for her by local seamstresses. To show the tribe how much he trusted them, the American couple took walks together into Mangwel, where Tyson became friendly with the tribe’s women and children, invited into private areas where men did not go… Gant taught Tyson how to fire all of the weapons used by Special Forces and kept a spare pistol in his guntruck in case she needed it in a fight.
In March 2012, Gant who admits to drinking, taking pain killers, and sleeping pills, in violation of military rules, was reported by a newly arrived officer, removed from his post, and kicked out of the Army.
“In two dozen interviews with confidential sources among the ‘quiet professionals’ who served alongside Gant or were familiar with his rise and fall, many were critical of his screw-ups but none quibbled with his incredible success at winning the tribes’ loyalty and neutralizing Taliban,” ABC News reports. “Most said keeping a lover in a tiny combat outpost was a flagrant violation of rules –- and virtually unheard of –- but one officer who served with Gant said it was inconsequential compared to his successes.”