TIME Foreign Policy

Inside John Kerry’s Diplomatic Save in Afghanistan

Presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah, right, and Ashraf Ghani embrace at a news conference with Secretary of State John Kerry where a deal to audit ballots was announced, in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 12, 2014.
Presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah, right, and Ashraf Ghani embrace at a news conference with Secretary of State John Kerry where a deal to audit ballots was announced, in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 12, 2014. Jim Bourg—The New York Times/Redux

Up to one million might have died, an Afghan leader warned.

As the sun went down over Kabul on Saturday July 13, Afghanistan’s future hung in the balance. Accusations of fraud in the country’s recent presidential election had paralyzed the country’s politics and threatened to trigger a civil war that could destroy the progress America’s costly military and diplomatic efforts had delivered since 2001. The parties in the dispute had convened at the residence of the American ambassador in Kabul, but the two sides couldn’t reach agreement.

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived on the scene that Saturday evening just as key Afghan players were headed out to the patio for their evening prayers. Scheduled to depart 90 minutes earlier for Vienna, where he was to join the ongoing international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, Kerry had delayed his departure to make a last ditch effort to broker a deal.

It was a dangerous moment, and not just for the Afghans. Without an agreement between second place finisher Abdullah Abdullah and the election’s declared winner, Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan was at risk of an implosion like the one that enabled the Taliban to take power in 1996—creating a safe haven for Osama bin Laden to plot the 9/11 attacks. And Kerry’s visit defied the advice of other Obama officials who warned any diplomatic intervention on the U.S. part held “the risk of complete failure,” in the words of a senior official.

The details of how Kerry defused the stalemate, based on accounts from a half-dozen officials familiar with the talks, reveals an Afghanistan closer to the brink than many outsiders may appreciate. It also illuminates rare foreign policy win for Kerry and for an Obama administration staggered by months of setbacks, one whose importance has been overshadowed by turmoil in the Middle East and Ukraine. Finally, it shows how fragile the country remains as the U.S. prepares to withdraw the last of its combat troops later this year.

The crisis was the result of the inconclusive June 14 presidential vote to replace the longtime Afghan ruler Hamid Karzai. Abdullah, the losing candidate, was insisting the vote had been rigged to the tune of hundreds of thousands of fraudulent ballots. By mid-July, Abdullah’s supporters had threatened to create a kind of protest government. Rumors swirled of an armed rebellion, with the potential to ignite dormant ethnic and tribal rivalries. “We will accept death but not defeat,” Ghani’s running mate, the notorious ex-warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, had recently vowed. “It was pretty frightening. People were preparing for civil war,” says one official.

On July 8 President Obama called Abdullah directly, warning that American aid to country could be cut off if he didn’t stand down. The call bought time but didn’t resolve the core dispute. “The president’s role was to intervene at a point where it looked like the dispute was threatening the stability of Kabul and the country. But that didn’t necessarily mean there was enough pressure to come to an agreement,” says one senior administration official. “Both candidates remained pretty dug in to their positions,” says another.

Kerry had arrived late on the night of July 10 from Beijing, diverting from his planned itinerary to Geneva for the Iran talks. Over the next three days, through long meetings, first with Abdullah’s camp, and then with Ghani’s, Kerry’s team hammered out a plan.

Afghanistan’s election commission, under international supervision, would audit every one of the eight million ballots cast in the June 14 vote (a runoff after an initial April 5 election.) The plan also called for a power-sharing arrangement that would give Abdullah an important role in the new Afghan government, potentially as a kind of deputy national leader. (The details have yet to be finalized and officials called reports of a European-style parliamentary system premature.)

A key asset in establishing the framework for the deal, officials say, was the relationship Kerry had built with the major players—Abdullah, Ghani, and also Karzai—over many years, dating to his tenure as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman. When Abdullah contested a fraud-rife 2009 election that returned Karzai to power, Kerry rushed to the country for long meetings with both men after a distrustful Karzai refused to talk to the U.S. special envoy to the country, Richard Holbrooke. Karzai is even less inclined to trust Washington today, and rarely speaks with President Obama. But the Afghan leader does maintain a good rapport with Kerry.

“Obviously a lot of the machinery of this took place from the White House and by phone. But ultimately a large part of why this got sealed is that Kerry had built up a relationship with Ghani, Abdullah and Karzai going all the way back to 2009,” says Jonah Blank, an Afghanistan expert with the RAND Corporation

Though the framework of the deal had been hammered out over the previous two days, the decisive moment came that Saturday evening, at the residence of U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham, after Abdullah and his retinue had finished prayers and broken their Ramadan fast. Ghani and his allies were elsewhere on the heavily fortified U.S. embassy compound; the two contenders for Afghanistan’s presidency had not yet met face-to-face.

Kerry had been buoyed by an earlier meeting with Karzai, who agreed to delay the country’s scheduled August 3 presidential inauguration, which a time-consuming audit of every ballot would require. But when Kerry arrived at Cunningham’s residence, Abdullah still wasn’t sold on a deal. Could he really trust an election process run by the government of Ghani’s ally Karzai?

Kerry pleaded with Abdullah to accept the deal. “I’m asking you as a friend to trust me,” he said. Kerry walked the group through several chapters in his life story, from the Vietnam War to the 2004 presidential campaign, and concluded by calling the meeting among the most important he’d ever attended. He urged Abdullah and his allies to consider the millions of Afghans who had voted despite Taliban threats—the Americans who had done so much for Afghanistan. “U.S. soldiers didn’t come here to fight and die to see this election fail,” Kerry said.

“You could tell that shifted the dynamic,” says an official who was present. Shortly after 9pm, Abdullah agreed to the deal.

Within half an hour, Ghani had arrived to clinch the agreement with his rival in person. The discourse between the Abdullah and Ghani camps had not been civil of late—at one rally, Abdullah’s running mate had called Ghani a name that roughly translates as “dried-up intestine.” But the men greeted each other warmly. If they felt personal hostility, says one official, “they did a good job of hiding it.”

As they headed to a midnight press conference, officials present say the men seemed to take pride in an agreement that had spared their country the threat of a nightmarish descent into chaos.

On July 16, President Obama opened his press conference announcing new economic sanctions against Russia by congratulating his Secretary of State for brokering the Afghan deal. Obama said it had preserved “the first democratic transfer of power in the history of that nation.”

In a conversation the day after Kerry’s departure, Ghani shared his relief over the outcome. The agreement, he said, may have saved one million Afghan lives.

TIME Military

Lawyer: Bergdahl ‘Deeply Grateful’ to Obama

Bergdahl Being Treated At U.S. Military Hospital In Germany
Bowe Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for nearly five years before being released in May. U.S. Army / Getty Images

Army sergeant held by Taliban believes President’s decision “saved his life,” his attorney Eugene Fidell tells TIME

No one’s heard anything yet from Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the former prisoner-of-war freed in a May 31 swap for five Taliban leaders after nearly five years as a Taliban prisoner. He hasn’t spoken to the press—by all accounts, he hasn’t even spoken to his parents. But, in typical American fashion, he has retained—and spoken to—an attorney.

“Sergeant Bergdahl is deeply grateful to President Obama for having saved his life,” Eugene Fidell, retained a week ago by the soldier, told TIME on Wednesday.

Fidell has traveled to Texas—where Bergdahl has returned to active duty at a desk job in San Antonio following his “re-integration” back into the service—to discuss with his client the investigation into the circumstances leading up to Bergdahl’s abduction in 2009. The attorney declined to offer any insights into Bergdahl’s mood, legal defense, or relationship with his family. Bergdahl also has an Army lawyer.

Eugene Fidell Yale

But Fidell did suggest the case—now being investigated by a two-star Army major general—is more complicated than he originally thought. That’s saying something: Fidell is a prominent military-law expert who lectures at Yale Law School on the topic, and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice.

“Before I was in the case, I was skeptical that the investigation called for a major general,” Fidell says. “I thought that a talented lieutenant colonel would be more than enough horsepower—I thought it was overkill.” Army officials say Major General Kenneth Dahl has yet to interview Bergdahl.

Fidell said he has changed his mind as he has dived into the case. “Based on what I now know about the complexity of the issues, which are in a number of spheres that I’m not going to get into, I understand why the Army thought that a general officer should be involved,” Fidell adds. “I now understand why management thought that it was a good idea to have a two-star officer doing this investigation.”

The lawyer, who has taken the case pro bono—without pay—declined to discuss the specifics that led him to change his mind. But Bergdahl’s case is complex: according to the soldiers with whom he served, Bergdahl simply walked away from his combat outpost in June 2009 before being captured by the Taliban along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Some of those troops have called Bergdahl a deserter, and alleged that fellow soldiers died hunting for him.

Questions also surround the Army’s decision to allow Bergdahl to enlist, two years after he washed out of Coast Guard boot camp after only 26 days. And lawmakers on Capitol Hill have criticized Obama for giving up five senior Taliban leaders for Bergdahl, now 28.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., told TIME on Tuesday that he doesn’t believe the swap was in the nation’s interest. “We were duty bound to bring him back, but I think we’re duty bound to bring him back in the right way,” said the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness subcommittee. “What other opportunities were there for us to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release besides releasing these five high-ranking Taliban officials?…we did increase the risk to Americans and American interests by releasing these five.”

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said that Bergdahl is now free to come and go like any other soldier. “He’s free to leave base…he’s not under any particular restrictions,” Kirby said. “And I would remind you, he’s not been charged with anything.”

TIME justice

Dutch Supreme Court Blocks Extradition of Al-Qaeda Suspect to U.S.

NETHERLANDS-PAKISTAN-USA-JUSTICE
The lawyer of Dutch-Pakistani national Sabir Khan, Andre Seebregts (L), arrives in the courtroom of The Hague, on February 12, 2013. Robin Utrecht—AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. wanted to put Sabir Khan on trial in New York for supporting terrorist attacks against Americans in Afghanistan

In a setback for the Obama administration’s use of law enforcement to fight al-Qaeda, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands on Friday blocked the extradition to the U.S. of Sabir Ali Khan, a Dutch-Pakistani man wanted in New York for conspiracy to commit murder and support of al-Qaeda.

The U.S. believes Khan was involved in Taliban and al-Qaeda attacks against Americans in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province in 2010, according to U.S. court documents obtained by TIME. Khan was arrested by Pakistani forces in Sept. 2010, allegedly at the request of the U.S., and held at a secret prison where he says he was tortured.

Khan, whose mother was Dutch, has citizenship in the Netherlands and was eventually released to Dutch authorities and flown to Holland, where he was arrested. His Dutch lawyer argued that the government should determine whether Khan was arrested at the U.S. behest, and whether he would face a threat of further torture if he were extradited.

The Dutch Supreme Court Friday ruled that the extradition could not proceed because the Dutch Government had declined to look into the alleged U.S. role in Khan’s arrest. The Court, which did not address the threat of torture by the U.S., concluded “the Dutch State should have done some research in this matter,” says Dutch Supreme Court Spokeperson Mireille Beentjes. In blocking the extradition, the court stressed “the large interest of combatting torture worldwide,” Beentjes said, quoting from the court’s opinion.

Robert Nardoza, spokesman for the Eastern District of New York, where Khan was indicted on five counts in 2010, said, “We’re going to review the ruling by the Dutch Supreme Court and consider our options.”

Khan, who is in his late 20s, declined to comment when reached by telephone Friday. He remains free and living in the Netherlands. In January, he told TIME that while he suspects he is under constant surveillance, “Officially I have no restrictions on me.”

The case shows how the U.S. must increasingly rely on other states’ legal systems in countering terrorism as Washington attempts to wind down extraordinary powers granted to the president after 9/11. Those states are sometimes more or less aggressive than the U.S. would like, and counterterrorism officials are having to adjust as a result.

 

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 Education

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

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

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

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.

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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