- As the 5th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, which Colonel Tunnell commanded for three years, was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in June 2009, senior Army officials questioned Tunnell’s leadership focus with growing concern, and discussed the possibility of removing him from command. Now, Tunnell’s tenure is raising fresh questions in the halls of the Pentagon. Five soldiers in Tunnell’s brigade stand accused of war crimes, including creating a self-described “kill team” that allegedly targeted unarmed Afghan men and cut off their fingers as war trophies. The narrative of Tunnell’s leadership is particularly significant to the Pentagon now, however, as it endeavors to instill in troops a new ethic of fighting in its current wars – using the least force necessary rather than the maximum force permissible. Some sources suggest that Tunnell set a tone that was not only out of line with Pentagon doctrine, but was inflammatory and potentially dangerous.
- “When you feel violent intent coming down from the command and into the culture of the brigade, that’s when you end up with things like the rogue platoon,” says a senior US military official who worked with the brigade in early 2009 at the National Training Center before it deployed to Afghanistan. “He established a culture that allowed that kind of mindset to percolate. And there are second- and third-order effects that come with that. Clearly, the guys who were pulling the trigger are the proximate cause of the crime, but the culture itself is the enabler.” Others argue that Tunnell’s aggressive posture was fair enough, and even necessary, for infantry troops who must prepare to kill, and also to be killed, on behalf of their country. They point out that the brigade was, after all, equipped with Stryker vehicles designed for soldiers working in some of the most violent regions of any conflict. And Kandahar Province – the cradle of the Taliban – was precisely where the 5/2 brigade was headed for a year-long tour.
- Other officers within the battalion shared their concerns, says the senior official. “I had two staff officers [in Tunnell’s brigade] separately tell me that they were afraid that the brigade was going to end up on CNN for ‘all the wrong reasons,’ ” he says. In response, trainers tried to help officers in the brigade take steps to “lead from the middle to ensure that didn’t happen,” says the senior official, who adds that some other military officials raised the possibility of removing Tunnell from command in discussions that included a two-star general.
If it is true, that senior leaders and general officers considered relieving or replacing Colonel Tunnel prior to the Brigade’s combat deployment, but chose not to, then their lack of moral courage is worse than anything the colonel may eventually be found culpable of “enabling”. Then again, the time for “relief” is over, but if anyone really believes that any Brigade senior leader will eventually be held accountable for the heinous crimes that occurred during their watch, you only need review the Army’s track record in this regard to see to see other examples of failed leadership and lack of accountability – i.e. Abu Graib, where only enlisted soldiers were charged with crimes; and Wanat, where commanders where ultimately absolved of failed leadership; it seems that the list will keep on growing.Share