Pentagon had red flags about command climate in 'kill team' Stryker brigade
Five soldiers in the 5th Stryker brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division are charged with forming a 'kill team' in Afghanistan. The commander of that brigade is not implicated in any criminal proceedings, but some Pentagon officials worry that his aggressive philosophy might have been an 'enabler.'
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Questions about Tunnell’s leadership focus began to emerge well before the brigade’s deployment to Afghanistan. It had long been an open secret among Tunnell’s subordinates that their boss disdained the word “counterinsurgency.”Skip to next paragraph
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Some in the brigade also believed that Tunnell was trying to raise his profile in the military by coining his own terms, including “guerrilla hunter killer teams.” “He was trying to create a new doctrinal term,” says one officer who served under Tunnell. “But it didn’t catch on.”
Readying for an Afghan tour
In February 2009, the brigade arrived at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., to begin its predeployment exercises. Some observers tasked with evaluating the performance of the units that came through soon noticed that Tunnell had set a tone that focused on killing the enemy to the exclusion of much else.
Commanders at the NTC submit a campaign plan that highlights what their brigade will accomplish during their year-long tours. The plan is supposed to incorporate security, economics, governance, and education. “Tunnell wrote one where the only thing that was on it was basically saying in 50 different ways how he was going to destroy the enemy,” says Demaree.
The senior military official who observed Tunnell’s brigade at the NTC offers a similar account. When an observer encouraged Tunnell to discuss the “nonlethal lines of efforts” that his brigade would be undertaking, including development, “Tunnell said, ‘I don’t have a single non-lethal soldier in my brigade,’ ” the senior military official says.
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.
Army spokesmen declined to discuss the matter, due to the ongoing investigation of the five men under Tunnell's command – proceedings in which he may be called as a witness. Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, leader of the alleged “kill team” suspected of targeting innocent Afghan civilians in 2009 and 2010, had served on Tunnell’s personal security detail before coming to the platoon where the murders were alleged to have taken place.
“This guy was in and around Tunnell on a daily basis,” Demaree says. “How much his personal day-to-day words and actions may or may not have influenced this NCO who directly worked for him” is unclear, he adds. “But he was one of 20-some-odd guys whose sole purpose was to protect Tunnell as he moved around the battlefield. You know all those guys personally. There’s a lot of personal discussion that occurs, and they know you better than anyone else.”