Several counterinsurgency experts also were urging U.S. commanders to flip the Pashtun tribal honor code, Pashtunwali, into an advantage against the Taliban through more direct tribal interaction by operators. Gen. Stanley McChrystal began to experiment with the concept before losing his job as war boss to Petraeus.
"Many initiatives should've been employed in Afghanistan years earlier, such as village stability operations," said one senior officer who served with Gant.
By early 2011, Gant was finally set up with his mixed team of Special Forces and mechanized infantry troopers inside the village of Mangwel to earn and maintain the trust, protection and loyalty of the Mohmand tribe's "malik,” or chief, whom Gant nicknamed Sitting Bull. Special Forces were spread so thin between kill/capture teams, in addition to 30 village stability sites, that Gant unexpectedly got inexperienced infantrymen instead of combat-hardened special operators for his team.
“I was absolutely shocked at how unprepared they were for the mission. But they had heart,” Gant says now, with pride.
While Petraeus and his U.S. Special Operations Command counterpart, Navy SEAL Adm. Eric Olson, wanted Gant and his men to go native in hopes it would be so successful that it spread far and wide, Gant said many in his special operations chain of command were unhappy. Even as they grudgingly embraced village stability operations, an order was issued in late 2010 for all other operators to shave off the beards that had become so ubiquitous to the Afghan war because they looked, as one senior Special Forces officer put it in 2010 “unprofessional.”
"Now we look no different than the Brits or Russians before us," a newly-shaven senior Special Forces team leader said in a news report then, referring to previous occupying forces in Afghanistan. The soldier also irked top commanders by adding that even the former war commander McChrystal "should have grown a beard" out of respect to Karzai.
Tyson writes in her book "American Spartan" that her now-husband and his men were hamstrung in 2011 by the command's orders for even those involved in village stability operations to keep their beards trimmed short and to stitch subdued American flag patches to the sleeves of their tribal shirts.
Two incidents in early 2012 showed how both the failure of the U.S. military to understand Afghanistan's tribal culture caused violence and how some operators' understanding of it may have prevented bloodshed.
When U.S. troops mistakenly burned holy Qurans at Bagram prison, there was a sudden spate of "green on blue incidents" in which Afghan troops gunned down American counterparts and riots swept Afghanistan. Gant violated a country-wide U.S. order to lock down his outpost and met with the local Safi tribal leader at his house. Mann called the lockdown "a reflection of our lack of understanding of an honor-based society."
Days later, when Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales snuck out of a base in Kandahar to slaughter and burn 17 Afghan civilians in a nearby village, quick thinking by U.S. commandos from the village stability team Bales was assigned to averted revenge violence.
"The team was very quick to approach the elders and make a public apology and a salatia honor payment. In a restorative society, blood money is expected," Mann said. "The team lived there. They were guests in that community."