WASHINGTON — -- When the U.S. military relieved Special Forces legend Jim Gant from command in March 2012, he saw it as the final blow in a clash within his own chain of command over his public push for American special operators to “go native” with Afghan tribes -- to dress like, live like and, if necessary, die like the locals.
Gant was removed after he was accused of -- and admitted to -- violating a ban on drinking alcohol and for using prescription painkillers, as well as giving out fuel to tribal police. Most controversially, he also admitted to living with his war correspondent lover Ann Scott Tyson in craggy Kunar province on the front lines for nearly a year.
But to the 44-year-old Green Beret, the potential court-martial he narrowly avoided really was rooted in his aggressiveness in embracing and promoting a controversial strategy. Gant had himself “gone native,” growing so close to the Pashtun villagers he lived alongside that the Mohmand tribe made him a "malik," a tribal leader.
"At that particular time, there were some people in my chain of command who were absolutely looking for something to get me off the battlefield," Gant claimed in an ABC News interview, which airs on “Nightline” Friday.
Gant's commanders throughout his 22 straight months in combat all declined to comment on his case or did not respond to requests for comment. U.S. Army Special Operations said in statement last week that the command "stands behind" an investigation of Gant by a task force in Afghanistan in 2012.
In a letter of reprimand, Gant was scolded for the drugs, alcohol and the affair, which the Army said allowed his paramour “unauthorized access to classified information” and put his men and his Afghan partners at “extreme and unnecessary risk.”
“In short, your actions disgraced you as an officer and seriously compromised your character as a gentlemen,” said the reprimand letter, signed by Lt. Gen. John Mulholland. “Such incredibly poor judgment, actions and lack of moral character will not and cannot be tolerated.”
Dozens of highly experienced military sources, however, said Gant was right when he said the Army had failed to fully embraced the concept of living with the tribes in “village stability operations,” a strategy with roots in the Vietnam War that has historically been a specialty of U.S. Army Special Forces. Some believe Gant's success at fighting the Taliban with such a controversial strategy was a factor in the military's decision to force him out.
"What happened to Jim Gant was symptomatic of a larger problem," Scott Mann, one of the principal architects of village stability operations, told ABC News this week.
The emphasis by many special operations commanders on direct-action -- kill or capture missions -- against Taliban, al Qaeda and others in Afghanistan throughout the war, frustrated other commanders, who believed that winning the tribes' loyalty was the only way to exit the war successfully. Gant's closeness to the Mohmand tribe in Kunar was precisely what one of his commanders, Gen. David Petraeus, wanted in order to leverage thousands of warriors under tribal chief Noor Afzhal against the Taliban.