TIME Foreign Policy

Kerry Arrives in Afghanistan to Meet Candidates

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the press conference of the 6th China-U.S. Security and Economic Dialogue and 5th round of China-U.S. High Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange at Diaoyutai State Guest House on July 10, 2014 in Beijing, China.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the press conference of the 6th China-U.S. Security and Economic Dialogue and 5th round of China-U.S. High Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange at Diaoyutai State Guest House on July 10, 2014 in Beijing, China. Feng Li—Getty Images

With Iraq wracked by insurgency, Afghanistan's power dispute over the election results is posing a new challenge to President Barack Obama's 5 1/2-year effort to leave behind two secure nations while ending America's long wars in the Muslim world.

Updated: July 11, 2014, 01:40 a.m. ET

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Secretary of State John Kerry is making a quick stop in Afghanistan to help resolve an election crisis sowing chaos in a country that the U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of dollars and lost more than 2,000 lives trying to stabilize.

The visit comes as Afghanistan shows worrying signs of unravelling in its first democratic transfer of power from President Hamid Karzai, who followed a decade of Taliban governance. Kerry will meet Friday with the two candidates claiming victory in last month’s presidential election runoff.

The U.S. and its allies are growing increasingly concerned as Afghanistan shows signs of unraveling in its first democratic transfer of power from President Hamid Karzai. With Iraq wracked by insurgency, Afghanistan’s dispute over election results poses a new challenge to President Barack Obama’s effort to leave behind two secure states while ending America’s long wars.

“I’ve been in touch with both candidates several times as well as President (Hamid) Karzai,” Kerry said before leaving Beijing, where he attended a U.S.-China economic meeting. He called on them to “show critical statesmanship and leadership at a time when Afghanistan obviously needs it.”

“This is a critical moment for the transition, which is essential to future governance of the country and the capacity of the (U.S. and its allies) to be able to continue to be supportive and be able to carry out the mission which so many have sacrificed so much to achieve.”

The preliminary results of the presidential election runoff suggested a massive turnaround in favor of former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a onetime World Bank economist who lagged significantly behind former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah in first-round voting.

Abdullah, a top leader of the Northern Alliance that battled the Taliban before the American-led invasion, claims the runoff was a fraud, and his supporters have spoken of establishing a “parallel government,” raising the specter of the Afghan state collapsing. Abdullah was runner-up to Karzai in a fraud-riddled 2009 presidential vote before he pulled out of that runoff.

Chief electoral officer Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail has resigned, denying any involvement in fraud but saying he would step down for the national interest.

Kerry will seek to persuade both candidates to hold off from rash action while the ballots are examined and political leaders are consulted across Afghanistan’s ethnic spectrum. The U.S. wants to ensure that whoever wins will create a government that welcomes all ethnic factions.

If neither candidate gains credibility as the rightful leader, the winner could be the Taliban. Many Afghans fear the insurgent forces will only gain strength as the U.S. military presence recedes. Internal instability could aid the insurgency.

Abdullah and Ghani each have said that as president they’d sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States, granting American forces immunity from local prosecution. Without such an agreement, the Obama administration has said it would have to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, a scenario that played out in Iraq three years ago. Karzai has refused to finalize the deal, leaving it to his successor.

James Dobbins, the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said this week some degree of fraud was expected, but it’s believed the fraud was “quite extensive.”

Speaking in Washington, Dobbins said the Abdullah campaign particularly mistrusts the impartiality of the Afghan electoral institutions.

Both campaigns and Karzai have asked the U.N. for help, he noted, and the U.N. has been designing a plan for deciding how ballots can be reviewed and which ones would be reviewed for possible fraud.

A U.N. audit, however rudimentary, probably could be done within two weeks, U.S. officials believe. The focus would be on clear fraud indicators, including districts with high turnout or more women going to the ballots than men.

Kerry also will meet with Karzai and U.N. officials.

Obama spoke to each candidate this week, asking them to allow time for investigations of ballot-stuffing. The White House said Tuesday that Obama warned that any move outside the law to seize power would mean the end of U.S. financial aid to Afghanistan.

Obama differentiated Afghanistan from Iraq, which he declared a “dumb war,” while considering Afghanistan a fight worth waging, ordering tens of thousands of new troops into the country in his first year in office.

The risk of a prolonged Afghan political crisis has alarmed U.S. officials already struggling to respond to sectarian tensions in Iraq that have broken out into open warfare.

The situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are distinct. But in each, the U.S. has spent more than a decade trying to set up democratic governments that could effectively police their own territories and stamp out threats to the American homeland.

And in both countries that objective is in peril, their futures threatened by a combination of poor leadership, weak institutions, interethnic rivalry and fierce extremist rebellions.

Suicide bombers and gunmen staged a deadly assault on government compounds Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, killing 30. The U.N. warned this week that such fighting in populated areas was a major cause for a 17 percent uptick in civilian deaths this year in a report that cast doubt on the capacity of government soldiers and police to protect the Afghan people after most U.S. and foreign forces leave.

TIME Afghanistan

Forced Smile? Bergdahl Pictured With Taliban Commander

Bergdahl
An undated photo of U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl with Badruddin Haqqani, the son of former Afghan Mujahideen commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani. @khorasan313

In a new salvo in the propaganda war with the West, a previously-unseen photograph of what appears to be Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl smiling alongside with a senior Taliban commander was posted to a Twitter account associated with the Afghan Taliban.

A slew of tweets posted late Wednesday claimed the former prisoner of war – who appeared thin and pale in the image – was treated well during his five years in captivity…

Read the rest of the story at NBC News

TIME Afghan civilian casualties

U.N.: Civilians Feel Toll of Afghan War as U.S. Withdrawal Nears

A victim's body lies on the road as Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in Kabul on June 21, 2014.
A victim's body lies on the road as Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in Kabul on June 21, 2014. Shah Marai—AFP/Getty Images

1,564 deaths recorded in the first half of this year, up 17 percent compared with 2013

A United Nations report released on Wednesday finds that civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose sharply in the first half of this year as they increasingly feel the brunt of war.

The report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), compiled as U.S.-led forces withdraw from a 12-year battle with the Taliban and amid a steep decline in security, finds that ground combat—now more than improvised explosive devices—is the leading cause of death and injury to civilians.

More than 4,800 civilian casualties were recorded in the first six months of this year. That figure includes 1,564 deaths, up 17 percent compared to the same period the year before. Child casualties associated with ground combat more than doubled—rising 34 percent to 1,071—while two-thirds more women were killed and wounded by ground engagements.

“The fight is increasingly taking place in communities, public places and near the homes of ordinary Afghans, with death and injury to women and children in a continued disturbing upward spiral,” said Georgette Gagnon, UNAMA’s Director of Human Rights.

Afghanistan’s unrest is increasing amidst the ongoing political crisis, as a disputed presidential election has created a tense stand-off between the two leading candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. Early results on Monday showed Ghani net 56.44% of the run-off vote on June 14, but Abdullah was quick to reject the outcome and claim it was marred by fraud.

Abdullah’s supporters protested in the capital, Kabul, on Tuesday and called on him to form a parallel government. Washington responded by saying it would pull both financial aid and security support if power was seized illegally.

 

TIME Veterans Affairs

VA Apologizes to Whistleblowers Facing Retaliation

Veterans Health Care
James Tuchschmidt, a top official at the Veterans Health Administration, the VA's health care arm, makes an opening statement while testifying before a House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Tuchschmidt said he was sorry that VA employees have suffered retaliation after making whistleblower complaints. Cliff Owen—AP

James Tuchschmidt, the No. 2 official at the Veterans Health Administration, the VA's health care arm, apologized on behalf of the department at a congressional hearing Tuesday night.

(WASHINGTON) — A top official at the Veterans Affairs Department says he is sorry that VA employees have suffered retaliation after making complaints about poor patient care, long wait times and other problems.

James Tuchschmidt, the No. 2 official at the Veterans Health Administration, the VA’s health care arm, apologized on behalf of the department at a congressional hearing Tuesday night.

“I apologize to everyone whose voice has been stifled,” Tuchschmidt said after listening to four VA employees testify for nearly three hours about VA actions to limit criticism and strike back against whistleblowers. “That’s not what I stand for. I’m very disillusioned and sickened by all of this.”

A federal investigative agency said Tuesday it was examining 67 claims of retaliation by VA supervisors against employees who filed whistleblower complaints — including 25 complaints filed since June 1, after a growing health care scandal involving long patient waits and falsified records at VA hospitals and clinics became public.

The independent Office of Special Counsel said 30 of the complaints about retaliation have passed the initial review stage and were being investigated further for corrective action and possible discipline against VA supervisors and other executives. The complaints were filed in 28 states at 45 separate facilities, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said.

Instead of using information provided by whistleblowers as an early warning system, the VA often “has ignored or attempted to minimize problems, allowing serious issues to fester and grow,” Lerner told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing. Worse, officials have retaliated against whistleblowers instead of investigating their complaints, she said.

Lerner said her office has been able to block disciplinary actions against several VA employees who reported wrongdoing, including one who reported a possible crime at a VA facility in New York.

The counsel’s office also reversed a suspension for a VA employee in Hawaii who reported seeing an elderly patient being improperly restrained in a wheelchair. The whistleblower was granted full back pay and an unspecified monetary award, and the official who retaliated against the worker was suspended, Lerner said.

The VA said earlier Tuesday it was restructuring its Office of Medical Inspector following a scathing report by Lerner’s agency last month.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said the department would appoint an interim director of the medical inspector’s office from outside the current office and was suspending the office’s hotline immediately. All complaints would be referred to the VA’s Office of Inspector General.

The head of the medical inspector’s office retired June 30 following a report by the Office of Special Counsel saying that his office played down whistleblower complaints pointing to “a troubling pattern of deficient patient care” at VA facilities.

“Intimidation or retaliation — not just against whistleblowers, but against any employee who raises a hand to identify a problem, make a suggestion or report what may be a violation in law, policy or our core values — is absolutely unacceptable,” Gibson said in a statement. “I will not tolerate it in our organization.”

A doctor at the Phoenix veterans hospital, where dozens of veterans died while on waiting lists for appointments, said she was harassed and humiliated after complaining about problems at the hospital.

Dr. Katherine Mitchell said the hospital’s emergency room was severely understaffed and could not keep up with “the dangerous flood of patients” there. Mitchell, a former co-director of the Phoenix VA hospital’s ER, told the House committee that strokes, heart attacks, internal head bleeding and other serious medical problems were missed by staffers “overwhelmed by the glut of patients.”

Her complaints about staffing problems were ignored, Mitchell said, and she was transferred, suspended and reprimanded.

Mitchell, a 16-year veteran at the Phoenix VA, now directs a program for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at the hospital. She said problems she pointed out to supervisors put patients’ lives at risk.

“It is a bitter irony that our VA cannot guarantee high-quality health care in the middle of cosmopolitan Phoenix” to veterans who survived wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Korea, she said.

Scott Davis, a program specialist at the VA’s Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta, said he was placed on involuntary leave after reporting that officials were “wasting millions of dollars” on a direct mail marketing campaign to promote the health care overhaul signed by President Barack Obama. Davis also reported the possible purging and deletion of at least 10,000 veterans’ health records at the Atlanta center. More records and documents could be deleted or manipulated to mask a major backlog and mismanagement, Davis said. Those records would be hard to identify because of computer-system integrity issues, he said.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House veterans panel, praised Mitchell and other whistleblowers for coming forward, despite threats of retaliation that included involuntary transfers and suspensions.

“Unlike their supervisors, these whistleblowers have put the interests of veterans before their own,” Miller said. “They understand that metrics and measurements mean nothing without personal responsibility.”

Rather than push whistleblowers out, “it is time that VA embraces their integrity and recommits itself to accomplishing the promise of providing high-quality health care to veterans,” Miller said.

TIME Education

Malala Day Video Tells the #StrongerThan Story Through Children’s Voices

“Once there was a girl who wanted to go to school….”

+ READ ARTICLE

Correction appended, July 9

In preparation for worldwide Malala Day on July 14, 2014, the Malala Fund released this video of children telling the inspiring story of the Pakistani girl who dared to learn.

“This is a story of strength,” begins the clip. One child after another then picks up the narrative, telling the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who narrowly survived a Taliban assassination attempt while still a young teenager, after gaining attention as an advocate for girls’ education. Since then, Malala has become an international envoy for education and women’s rights.

“Malala Day is not my day,” she said in a statement. “It is the day of every girl and every boy. It is a day when we come together to raise our voices, so that those without a voice can be heard.”

The Malala Fund calls on people to use the #StrongerThan hashtag on social medial to tell their own story of overcoming oppression.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated Malala Yousafzai’s nationality.

TIME Afghanistan

Afghan Officials: Ahmadzai Leads in Disputed Vote 

APTOPIX Afghanistan Election
Scores of supporters of Afghan presidential candidate and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai celebrate in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 7, 2014. Massoud Hossaini—AP Photo

Ballots from about 7,000 more of the nearly 23,000 polling stations are still to be audited

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Afghan officials released preliminary election results Monday showing former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai well in the lead for the presidency but said no winner can be declared because millions of ballots were being audited for fraud.

The announcement came as Ahmadzai is locked in a standoff with his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who has refused to accept any results until all fraudulent ballots are invalidated. A spokesman for his campaign rejected the results and called the decision to release them “a coup.”

The United States issued a strongly worded statement cautioning the results “are not final or authoritative” and urging electoral authorities to “implement a thorough audit whether or not the two campaigns agree.”

The Independent Election Commission acknowledged that vote rigging had occurred and said ballots from about 7,000 more of the nearly 23,000 polling stations would be audited.

“We cannot ignore that there were technical problems and fraud that took place during the election process,” the commission’s chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani said. “We are not denying fraud in the election, some governors and Afghan government officials were involved in fraud.”

The results showed that Ghani had about 4.5 million votes, or 56%, while Abdullah had 3.5 million votes, or 44%, according to the commission. Turnout was more than 50%, IEC spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor said.

Abdullah, a former foreign minister who won the first round of voting on April 5 by a large margin, says his campaign monitors recorded ballot box stuffing and other irregularities, prompting him to suspend his cooperation with electoral officials. The European Union also expressed concern about “highly worrying indications of potentially widespread fraud.”

The U.S. State Department called for a “full and thorough review of all reasonable allegations of irregularities” to ensure Afghan confidence in the integrity of the electoral process and broad acceptance of the new Afghan president.

“Serious allegations of fraud have been raised and have yet to be adequately investigated,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

She said more than 3 million ballots could be affected but expressed confidence the process could be completed in time to allow the inauguration of the next president to be held on Aug. 2 as scheduled.

The preliminary results had been due on July 2 but were delayed by five days while officials said they would audit ballots from 1,930 polling stations that had at least 599 votes. Nouristani said that had led to 6,474 pro-Ahmadzai votes and 4,428 in favor of Abdullah from 114 polling stations being invalidated.

Abdullah said Sunday that was insufficient and demanded the results be postponed until all fraud allegations were resolved. His campaign planned a press conference on Tuesday.

“The announcement of the results was a coup by the IEC and Ghani and Karzai against our votes,” said Abdul Satar Murad, a member of Abdullah’s campaign team. “And this announcement will never be accepted by us.”

Many of Ahmadzai’s supporters didn’t wait for final results to celebrate. Scores took to the streets of Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar, playing drums and dancing after hearing the news.

Elay Ershad, a lawmaker and member of Ahmadzai’s team, welcomed the announcement of the results, pointing out there were still two weeks to resolve complaints about fraud before the final results are due.

According to the election commission’s official timetable, final results are due on July 22.

The impasse has threatened to undermine what the U.S. and its allies had hoped would be the country’s first democratic transfer of authority after President Hamid Karzai agreed to step down after two terms as legally required.

Western officials were looking for a smooth transition to show progress ahead of the withdrawal of U.S. and allied combat troops by the end of this year. Whoever wins will inherit an impoverished country mired in insurgency and facing high unemployment and declining foreign aid.

Both candidates have promised to sign a security pact with the Obama administration that would allow nearly 10,000 American forces to remain in the country in a training capacity and to conduct counterterrorism operations. A disruption in the announcement of election results could mean another delay in finalizing that agreement, which was rebuffed by Karzai.

Ahmadzai, a former finance minister and World Bank official, also filed complaints of irregularities in the June 14 balloting but has insisted that the agreed-upon counting process be respected and said any further delays in releasing results would be unacceptable.

The results were announced after the campaign teams held hours of negotiations with electoral officials over the number of polling stations to be audited.

TIME Afghanistan

Taliban Insurgents Set Blaze in Massive Field of Oil Tankers

Smoke and flames rise from fuel trucks after an overnight attack by the Taliban on the outskirts of Kabul
Smoke and flames rise from fuel trucks after an overnight attack by the Taliban on the outskirts of Kabul July 5, 2014. Mohammad Ismail—Reuters

About 200 tankers meant to support U.S. troops were lit on fire after a targeted Taliban strike

Taliban fighters ignited a massive fire in Afghanistan on Saturday, setting fire to 200 oil tanker trucks supplying fuel for NATO forces.

Some Afghan media reported that insurgents fired rockets at the tankers, but it is still unclear exactly how the fires started. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, Reuters reports.

The fires lit up the night with a deafening roar, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

“The number of tankers on fire is not yet clear, but based on preliminary reports from police around 200 tankers have been burnt,” Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The Taliban has vowed to disrupt the country’s ongoing presidential election. The results of the final round of elections will be reported Monday, while both remaining candidates have accused one another of mass voting fraud.

[Reuters]

TIME Military

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl Is Venturing Off Base as Part of Reintegration

Bowe Bergdahl
This undated photo provided by the U.S. Army shows Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl AP

Held captive by the Taliban for five years, he's now being reintegrated with society

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the prisoner of war in Afghanistan who recently returned to the U.S. after five years of captivity, is regularly going off post to dine, shop and do other chores, according to Lieut. Colonel Carol McClelland.

“He’s been doing it for at least a week,” the Army spokeswoman tells TIME, adding that it was a normal component of his reintegration into society. On visits to San Antonio, he has been accompanied by members of his reintegration team, including a psychologist, according to the Associated Press.

Bergdahl, 28, was shifted last week to outpatient care at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He was freed by the Taliban on May 31 in a prisoner exchange for five senior Taliban officials held at Guantánamo Bay, and arrived in the U.S. on June 13. He was initially being treated in the U.S. at Brooke Army Medical Center.

As part of the reintegration process, the Army is increasing his exposure to people and social settings incrementally. It’s still unknown if his parents, who has asked for privacy since Bergdahl’s return, has visited their son.

The Army is still investigating circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s departure from his outpost in June 2009 before his capture.

With reporting by Mark Thompson

TIME Pakistan

Unbelievably, There Are Now Refugees Fleeing to Afghanistan

The Pakistani military’s offensive against insurgents in North Waziristan has sparked a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of Pakistanis concluding that Afghanistan is just a far safer place to be right now.

+ READ ARTICLE

The Pakistani military has begun operations against Islamic insurgents in the North Waziristan region, delivering the offensive that Washington has been requesting for a decade, and sparking a massive exodus of refugees — some of whom are fleeing to neighboring Afghanistan to escape the fighting.

Militants, who have long inhabited the mountainous tribal area, have found themselves the target of heavy artillery bombardment and airstrikes for the past fortnight, in what the military’s PR chief Major-General Asim Bajwa termed “the beginning of the end of terrorism in Pakistan.”

Reports began to surface on Thursday in the Pakistani press that ground troops had started moving into North Waziristan to clear out the insurgent forces.

Washington says militants have been using North Waziristan for years as a base from which to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan and to wage a terrorist insurgency against the Pakistani state.

Senior members of the Pakistani Taliban (the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan), the Haqqani Network and Al Qaeda’s central command — along with a smattering of militants from as far away as western China’s Xinjiang province and Chechnya — are believed to be holed up in the area. All are on Islamabad’s kill list.

“For the military, there’ll be no discrimination among Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Haqqani network or any other militant group,” Major-General Bajwa told reporters during a press conference in Rawalpindi on Thursday.

The mountainous border dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan has been home to martial tribes for centuries. However, the presence of heavily armed insurgents and foreign jihadis is the notorious legacy of American and Saudi intelligence agencies, who used the fighters as proxy forces during the clandestine war with Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“This is famously the powder keg, which has led to everything going wrong in the region and the beginning of heavily armed militant Islam,” William Dalrymple, the historian and author of nine books on South Asia, tells TIME. “Obviously in retrospect [it’s] one of the great mistakes of American foreign policy.”

The Pakistani secret service (ISI) is alleged to have helped insurgent elements fleeing the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, using those militant groups to maintain pressure on the newly formed government in Kabul, which they believed harbored pro-Indian sensibilities.

“The Pakistan Army, or elements within ISI, always continued to support the Taliban as a way of getting rid of the Karzai government and a way of installing a pro-Pakistani Taliban regime in Kabul,” says Dalrymple.

That policy appears to have backfired. In 2007, the Pakistani Taliban launched a fresh insurgency against Islamabad that to date has been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Pakistanis and at least 15,000 security personnel.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif campaigned last year on the promise of peace talks with the Taliban, but any hope of negotiations has been extinguished by a recent string of humiliating attacks, including a brazen assault on Karachi airport, deep in the country’s commercial hub.

The perennially stretched Pakistani state is now attempting to deal with the massive humanitarian fallout from the new offensive. In the less than two weeks of fighting, more than 450,000 people have been internally displaced. Officials estimate that the number will surpass 500,000 soon.

In a bizarre reversal of the norm, tens of thousands of Pakistanis have reportedly flooded into war-torn eastern Afghanistan to escape the fighting on the Pakistan side of the border.

“The [Afghan] government estimates there are over 60,000 thousand for now,” says Babar Baloch from U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees.

The exodus has also ignited fears that the polio epidemic rampant in North Waziristan for two years could spread to other parts of the region.

Meanwhile, analysts have already begun to criticize the new military campaign for not being part of a broader vision of Pakistan’s future.

“There isn’t yet a clear national strategy,” says Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. That means “operations are going to be tactical at best.” He adds: “The civilians were not brought in at the planning stage. And they’re not prepared in any way to take over from the military once the clearing has taken place.”

TIME Military

The Fall of the Green Berets’ Lawrence of Afghanistan

Major Jim Gant, center, with local Afghans and his soldiers in Afghanistan. One Tribe at a Time

Army removed officer for drugs, booze and his reporter “paramour”

Given the lackluster results of the U.S.-initiated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans might want a military officer willing to break the rules to accomplish something on the ground in such faraway places. That someone might have been Army Green Beret Major Jim Gant, who was credited with winning his slice of the Afghan war in northeastern Kunar province until his career derailed after a love affair with a newspaper reporter who quit her job to live with him in Afghanistan.

The tale of Gant and former Washington Post reporter Ann Scott Tyson, is detailed in her recent book American Spartan: The Promise, the Mission and the Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant. She came to know Gant— who some described as “Lawrence of Afghanistan” for adopting local customs and exchanging his Army uniform for traditional Afghan garb, along with a full beard—while covering the war for the Post.

Gant, who won a Silver Star for valor in Iraq in 2006, had achieved notice for detailing his thinking on how the U.S. could prevail in Afghanistan in a 2009 paper, One Tribe at a Time. A copy had been found in Osama bin Laden’s quarters following his killing by U.S. forces in 2011, Tyson writes. There were notes in the margins about the difficulties al Qaeda was having in Kunar province, believed written by bin Laden. A second document, from bin Laden to his intelligence chief, named Gant, and said he “needed to be removed from the battlefield,” according to Tyson.

Gant and Tyson in Afghanistan. ABC/Ann Scott Tyson

Tyson first interviewed Gant when the Army awarded him that Silver Star, and wrote about him in a 2010 profile for her newspaper. The headline declared him “the Green Beret who could win the war in Afghanistan.”

Although each was in a failing marriage, the couple decided to live together amid Afghanistan’s mountains for nine months starting in mid-2011. Gant was running the war his way and “indulged in a self-created fantasy world” that mixed booze and drugs, according to the Army. He kept his relationship with Tyson hidden from his superiors. “We both knew that there was a lot of risk in doing what we did. And I would do it again,” Gant tells ABC News. “It was extremely unconventional, yes, to say the least.”

Gant’s extremely unconventional approach to war—and his unusual living arrangement with Tyson—led the Army to relieve him of command in 2012 after a freshly-minted lieutenant from West Point complained.

“There is a belief [in the Army] that you went COL Kurtz and went totally native,” an Army comrade wrote to Gant after he returned to Fort Bragg, N.C., according to Tyson’s book. Colonel Walter E. Kurtz was the rogue Green Beret officer played by Marlon Brando in 1979’s Apocalypse Now.

The Army—which had praised Gant’s approach to counter-insurgency by grooming local tribesman into police forces to oppose the Taliban—turned on him after internal investigations revealed some of his unusual counter-insurgency methods. Gant dealt with his PTSD and traumatic brain injury with alcohol, supposedly banned in Afghanistan for U.S. troops, and prescription drugs. And he endangered his troops, according to the Army:

During your time in command, you purposefully and repeatedly endangered the lives of your Soldiers…You painted inappropriate and unauthorized symbols on Government vehicles, painted the symbol on your vehicle a different color, then challenged the enemy to try and kill you without consideration to your Service Members’ lives or well being. You sent `night letters’ to the enemy, further drawing dangerous attention to yourself and subordinates. These are the same Soldiers that you have the duty to properly train, mentor, lead and most importantly, defend.

Yet Gant never lost a man, Tyson wrote. The service didn’t think much of his arrangement with her, either: “By providing his paramour unimpeded access to classified documents in a combat zone, MAJ Gant compromised the US mission in Afghanistan.”

Lieut. General John Mulholland, then-commanding general of the Army Special Operations Command (now the deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command), acknowledged Gant’s “record of honorable and valorous service” in a career-killing reprimand in July 2012. Gant’s conduct was “inexcusable and brought disrepute and shame to the Special Forces” and “disgraced you as an officer and seriously compromised your character as a gentleman.” He retired as a captain. The couple married last year.

But it wasn’t only Gant’s relationship with the Army that raised questions. Among reporters, so did Tyson’s relationship with Gant.

David Wood, a Pulitzer-winning veteran military correspondent, wrote a profile of the couple for the Huffington Post when Tyson’s book was published in March:

A once-promising strategy for stability in Afghanistan ended badly two years ago, along with the career of its author and chief proponent, Army Special Forces Maj. Jim Gant. His gripping story is detailed in a new book, American Spartan, by Ann Scott Tyson, the former Washington Post war correspondent who interviewed him for an admiring story in late 2009. They fell in love. Tyson eventually joined Gant in an Afghan village, where he built a reputation mobilizing local tribes against the Taliban. A tough, wiry Special Forces soldier, Gant was decorated and recommended for promotion over 22 continuous months of combat in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. But in the end, the iconoclasm and disdain for military protocol that enabled Gant’s success were instrumental in his eventual downfall.

Another veteran military reporter, David Axe, took issue with Woods’ story on Medium’s website:

In his Huffington Post profile, Wood helpfully promotes the book and attempts to rehabilitate a rogue officer who clearly possesses essentially zero regard for Islamic customs, military regulations and common sense…Most Green Berets don’t take their girlfriends, booze and drugs to war with them. They certainly don’t need lovers and gullible reporters to write elaborate defenses of their combat records. Gant is no hero. His behavior in Afghanistan was unacceptable. And no hagiography—by his wife or by Wood—can redeem the man’s shameful legacy.

But Gant’s real legacy isn’t so much about Afghanistan. It’s about the willingness of the U.S. military to tolerate officers who will challenge training and tradition in hopes of finding a better way to prevail. How far Gant crossed that line—and if it warranted the punishment he got—will be debated long after the final U.S. troops have left the country he tried to help.

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