Top Green Beret Officer Forced to Resign Over Affair With WaPo Reporter

Jim Gant, once praised as hero of Afghan war, labeled a "disgrace" to military.

ByABC News
June 24, 2014, 10:21 AM

— -- A legendary Special Forces commander was quietly forced to leave the U.S. Army after he admitted to a love affair with a Washington Post war correspondent, who quit her job to secretly live with him for almost a year in one of the most dangerous combat outposts in Afghanistan.

U.S. Army Special Operations Command never publicly disclosed that highly-decorated Green Beret Major Jim Gant was relieved of command at the end of a harrowing 22 months in combat in March 2012.

His commanders charged in confidential files that he had "indulged in a self-created fantasy world" of booze, pain pills and sex in a tribal village deep in Taliban and al Qaeda country with his "wife," journalist Ann Scott Tyson.

"We did fall in love, I would say over the course of about a week," Tyson told ABC News in an interview, recalling that Gant asked her to marry him within a few days of meeting each other in 2010. She laughed him off at first, but eventually he won her over.

By the time he was yanked out of Afghanistan two years later because of his relationship with Tyson, Gant also had won over three Pashtun tribes with substantial influence throughout Kunar province. Top commanders had tasked him with turning the tide of a conflict America was losing, and in his corner of the war, Gant was winning.

PHOTOS: Lawrence of Afghanistan

FULL COVERAGE: Lawrence of Afghanistan

VIDEO: Inside Jim Gant's Briefing Room, Warning of Violence After Quran Burning in 2012

Former Special Forces Maj. Jim Gant, center, insisted that his troops dress like locals in eastern Afghanistan to better win their trust.

Despite being stripped of his Special Forces honors, busted down to captain and forced to retire in a case hushed up by the Army for two years, Gant said everything he achieved in waging an unconventional fight against the Taliban -- which Tyson says she helped him to do -- was worth the punishment and professional blows.

"We both knew that there was a lot of risk in doing what we did. And I would do it again," Gant told ABC News this month in his first television interview. "It was extremely unconventional, yes, to say the least."

As to the wrongdoing he has since admitted to, he said the results he got were proof that breaking the rules worked.

"I never left the battlefield defeated. I never lost a man. Well over 20 awards for valor for the men that I fought alongside. We went after 'em every single day. I brought all my men home. That's it," Gant said.

But it was a long, hard fall for a visionary still called "Lawrence of Afghanistan" by two of the war's now retired top commanders, Army Gen. David Petraeus and Navy SEAL Adm. Eric Olson, in honor of the British officer T.E. Lawrence who led the Arab Revolt a century ago. Gant, who idolizes Lawrence, said he's honored by the comparison.

Ann Scott Tyson and Jim Gant, who married last year, have come forward to tell their tale in her new book, "American Spartan: The Promise, The Mission And The Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant."

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One Tribe At a Time

Four years ago, some influential, high-level military officers believed that Gant held the key to winning the war in Afghanistan, but as the book lays out in excruciating detail, his heroism and vision were all but forgotten by the commanders who once praised him, save for Olsen and Petraeus.

"He clearly had grit. He had guts. He had intelligence," Petraeus, who became the Afghan war's commander in 2010, told ABC News in a rare on-camera interview. "He is one to whom we owe a debt of gratitude, even recognizing how things ended for him. Folks make mistakes, obviously."

Few others have defended Gant's war record.

Olson considered Gant one of the few in special operations who understood that progress required more than just kill/capture missions and viewed him as an antidote to an unconventional war that had taken the wrong direction with a surge of conventional troops.

Petraeus became Gant's biggest supporter when he unexpectedly took command in Kabul in July 2010.

"There was no question that the Taliban was on the march," Petraeus said. His solution was to send thinly-stretched Special Operations forces into villages, "thickened" by conventional U.S. Army infantry squads, in order to win the loyalty of Pashtun and wreck the Taliban momentum. Gant was superb at "going native," Petraeus said.

Gant also fell hard for a reporter at the Washington Post who took up his case for tribal engagement. Each was in a marriage on the ropes and each had four kids.

"I used to tell her, 'just jump.' You know, just, 'Come on, just jump.' And she did. And so did I. So here we are," Gant said.

"[Gant] did go native. You go native so that the natives feel that you respect them and are comfortable with them and trust them, above all. And he really was adopted as a son by Sitting Bull... there was no question about the relationship between these two individuals. And that's what you want," Petraeus said.

Tyson too dressed in tribal clothing made for her by local seamstresses. To show the tribe how much he trusted them, the American couple took walks together into Mangwel, where Tyson became friendly with the tribe's women and children, invited into private areas where men did not go. Sitting Bull treated Tyson like a daughter, she wrote.

Gant taught Tyson how to fire all of the weapons used by Special Forces and kept a spare pistol in his guntruck in case she needed it in a fight.

Tyson knew most of the visiting VIPs well from her long stint at the Washington Post, a job she quit to join Gant and write the book, and said she had to keep her presence in Gant's combat "qalat" secret. News media "embeds" in Afghanistan with Special Operations forces rarely exceed a few days and she was not authorized by any task force to be in the Mangwel operation – much less for nine months.

"I stayed out of the picture," she said in the ABC News interview with Gant in Seattle. "We didn't want my presence there to be widely known, but at the same time a lot of people knew about it... I was glad for the opportunity to help the man I had fallen in love with, as well as to write about a potential solution to the incredible suffering I had witnessed over a decade almost."

His commanders, who rotated in and out of Afghanistan while Gant stayed, have insisted that they were unaware Tyson was living in Mangwel for almost a year, military sources said. Other Special Forces sources in Afghanistan noted that drones were over Gant's team during firefights or key leader engagements with the tribes and that it was well known "Gant was living with someone out there he called his wife," one of the sources told ABC News.

As Tyson mingled with tribes in several villages, the Taliban discussed her presence in radio chatter, the couple claims. It is unlikely Pashtun villagers would have kept it a secret from the insurgents in the area.

Gant's young soldiers apparently had no objection to their commander sharing his conex hut with his lover. Six from his team, all active-duty soldiers, regularly attend reunions near Seattle with Gant and Tyson and several told ABC News they wouldn't hesitate to return to Afghanistan with their dishonored leader, who they still idolize.

As good as he was at juggling tribal politics, Gant wasn't as talented with his "SF" brethren, who had become increasingly cautious and risk-averse over the course of the long war.

After beating back five harrowing Taliban attacks in broad daylight on his compound in Chowkay in the days leading up to the showdown with his own commanders -- all videotaped by Tyson and provided to ABC News -- Gant was flown away by a Special Forces team from Kunar.

"If he was going off the reservation, they should have evaluated his operation. It seemed to go from flash to bang pretty quickly," a skeptical senior commander who once visited Gant and Sitting Bull told ABC News.

Gant was ordered to shave off his long beard and put on a uniform -- while under armed guard -- as the Army launched an investigation and threatened a court-martial.

"I would have rather been in the hands of the Taliban at that point," he said. "It was crushing. It was absolutely crushing."

The local Afghans in Kunar -- who had fought so bravely alongside their new American brothers -- were enraged and upset, and a contingent of Pashtun elders traveled to Asadabad to protest to U.S. and Afghan government officials the removal of their beloved "Commander Jim."

He was brought back to Fort Bragg, N.C., where his Green Beret status was taken away and he was busted to captain even though he'd made the promotion list for lieutenant colonel. He accepted a career-killing reprimand, obtained by ABC News, from Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, who called Gant a "disgrace" absent of "moral character," having "indulged in a self-created fantasy world."

"While fully acknowledging your record of honorable and valorous service to the Regiment, our Army and our country, the simple truth is that your subsequent conduct was inexcusable and brought disrepute and shame to the Special Forces Regiment and Army Special Operations," says the letter of reprimand signed by Mulholland, Deputy Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. "In short, your actions disgraced you as an officer and seriously compromised your character as a gentleman."

ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS: Letter of Reprimand | Gant's Response

Gant admits that he's not innocent.

"I did break the rules. And I have never said that I didn't," he said.

But seven of Gant's young troopers also received reprimands for looking the other way and, in one instance, drinking a single beer in violation of a U.S. military prohibition for troopers serving in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

"I'm the commander. I made those decisions. My men followed my orders," Gant said, his voice filled with heartbreak. "They took part of my soul. Yeah, they did."

Dozens of sources throughout the senior enlisted and officer ranks of Fort Bragg told ABC News alcohol was prevalent at most Special Forces camps throughout Afghanistan in 2012.

None of the senior officers named in Tyson's book who served with her husband, other than Petraeus, agreed to on-the-record interviews for this story.

"It's a regrettable event I wish I wasn't involved in," Col. William Linn, who commanded Gant and ordered the search of Gant's compound, said in a brief phone call.