While recovering from grievous wounds of a violent tour in northern Iraq between 2003 and 2004, Army Col. Harry Tunnell reflected on the lessons he learned there. One in particular was clear: Peacekeeping methods weren’t working.

What did work were measures that “political correctness dictates that we cannot talk about,” he later wrote in a paper published by the US Army.

“Military leaders must stay focused on the destruction of the enemy. It is virtually impossible to convince any committed terrorist who hates America to change his or her point of view – they must be attacked relentlessly.”

It was an aggressive approach that Tunnell continued to promote among his troops in the five years following his tour in Iraq, even as the Pentagon had begun shifting toward a more nuanced vision of warfare focused on protecting civilians and, in some cases, promoting the reintegration of insurgents.
As the 5th brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, which 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. There is no indication that Tunnell, who declined requests to be interviewed for this story, condoned or had any knowledge of the alleged murders. Nor is he implicated in any criminal proceedings. Soldiers and commanders interviewed for this article emphasize that he never exhorted troops to do anything unethical or immoral.

Source: Anna Mulrine for The Christian Science Monitor.

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