Unit’s fight for better anti-IED software won after heavy casualties

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Palantir has given my [intelligence unit] the ability to organize raw intel data, analyze what that data means, edit and organize possible cells, offers possible links to other enemy organizations and helps us focus on certain individuals if you are trying to track a certain flow,” the captain wrote in a report.

Another soldier, a brigade intelligence analyst, noted, “The only complaint I have is that we were not able to deploy initially with Palantir. We were trained and used the software successfully at [the National Training Center] and thought we would have it available to us upon deployment, so it was upsetting that we didn’t get it until much later in the deployment.”

A third soldier who specialized in acquiring intelligence from Afghan sources wrote, “There is no better system for ingesting all forms of electronic data and linking it all together. Nothing out there comes close.”

The Washington Times first reported on an unseen bureaucratic battle within the Afghanistan War.

The Times detailed how soldiers asked for Palantir and got rebuffed by staffers at Army headquarters who think the common-ground system, and other software, was all they needed. An internal Army email from a senior official asked colleagues about the best way to “turn off” a request for Palantir from the 82nd Airborne Division, where officers, as with Col. Tunnell, were hearing good things about the software widely used by special-operation forces, but not the conventional Army.

The Times reported on how the Army ordered the destruction of a favorable field evaluation of Palantir completed this April and replaced it with another test report critical of the software. The Times also obtained a copy of an operational test of the Army’s common-ground system. The report to Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff, concluded that the network suffered “significant limitations,” was unreliable and vulnerable to cyberattack.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has launched a probe into the entire sequence of events.

Rocky year in Afghanistan

Even without the Palantir snafu, the 5th Stryker Brigade, named after the eight-wheel Stryker armored vehicle, was destined to spend a rocky year in Afghanistan.

Most of its preparation was for Iraq. It learned late in the training game that the new destination was Afghanistan — and the south region where the Taliban rose up in the 1990s and still counted on plenty of allies.

During the brigade’s tour, five of its soldiers were charged with killing innocent Afghan civilians. A subsequent Army investigation harshly criticized Col. Tunnell for displaying an aloof leadership style and for failing to follow the command’s new counterinsurgency strategy to protect the civilian population. He focused instead on killing insurgents.

The Army general who conducted the investigation in 2011 said he would have fired Col. Tunnell if he still commanded the brigade. Col. Tunnell, a West Point graduate, was transferred to an Army recruiting command at Fort Knox, Ky., and is seeking to retire.

Other officers who followed the 5th Stryker brigade in Afghanistan came to the same conclusion that the Army needed a better computerized intelligence network to identify the enemy.

They included Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, then the top intelligence officer in Afghanistan.

As the Stryker brigade was preparing to leave Afghanistan in July 2010, Gen. Flynn sent an urgent memo to the Pentagon.

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