His "extremely unconventional" way of war ended Special Forces Maj. Jim Gant's Army career, but retired Gen. David Petraeus said he exemplified "the perfect counter-insurgent."
In a rare interview, Petraeus told ABC News that Gant was the "Lawrence of Afghanistan."
The reference was to British Lt. Col. T.E. Lawrence, who also crossed with superiors while donning Arab dress to help lead the tribal revolt against the Ottoman Empire in World War I.
"Jim (Gant) was the complete package when you consider what you're looking for in a Green Beret – Special Forces. He was, as I've described him on a number of occasions, the perfect counter-insurgent," Petraeus told ABC.
In 2010, Gant had command of a combat outpost in southeastern Kunar province near the village of Mangwel. He and his troops admittedly went native, growing beards and shedding body armor to don the shalwar kameez Afghan clothing and pokol caps.
"He led from the front and in many respects he did go native," Petraeus said of Gant. "You want people in the military who, especially in Special Forces and Green Berets, who are going to be out in remote locations, they have to be comfortable -- with risk, with uncertainty, with lack of support," Petraeus told ABC News.
"We'd asked a great deal of this individual," Petraeus told ABC News. "He'd provided a great deal. Frankly to see his career end the way it did was -- was painful to hear about. And obviously disappointing. He clearly took actions that were not in keeping with the standards and he paid a very high price."
Gant, who had earned a Silver Star in Iraq, was relieved of command in March 2012 after 22 months of combat in Afghanistan.
"I was drinking alcohol, I was taking sleeping medication. I was taking pain medication," Gant told ABC in his first television interview. "I admitted to that. And they came in. They came in and got me out of there."
"That was the end," Gant said. "They had to do something, and I know that. They didn't have any choice" but "it should've been handled differently."
"I'm not innocent. I did break the rules but they did not deal with me honorably," Gant said, noting that several of his young troops were also reprimanded. Gant was eventually reprimanded and demoted to captain, and he left the Army.
Petraeus said that Special Forces units "do have to push the envelope. They do have to stretch the bounds a bit. And there is an expectation that they'll do some of that. It's celebrated as a quality in these kinds of units."
One way Gant pushed the envelope was in having his then-girlfriend and now wife, former Washington Post reporter Ann Scott Tyson, live with him for nearly a year at the outpost.
"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. "It was extremely unconventional, yes, to say the least."
Tyson and Gant have now told their story in her new book, "American Spartan: The Promise, The Mission and the Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant."
Gant's downfall also came at a time when the counter-insurgency doctrine pushed by Petraeus was falling into disfavor at the Pentagon and the White House.
In January 2012, President Obama said "we're turning a page on a decade of war" that involved large ground forces and occupations under COIN in signing off on a new national defense strategy titled "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense."
Nation-building and the huge investments in time, troops and money involved in COIN were no longer affordable in an era of soaring deficits, Obama said.
"We must put our fiscal house in order here at home and renew our long-term economic strength," Obama said.
"This does not mean that we're abandoning COIN," then-Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said. "We will preserve the know-how and capability" to undertake counter-insurgency operations, mostly in the National Guard and Reserves, Carter said.
However, "obviously our forces will be somewhat smaller," Carter said, and the U.S. will be looking to meet future threats "in ways other than invasion and land occupation."
Gant's letter of reprimand from Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, obtained by ABC News, said that he had "indulged in a self-created fantasy world" through his actions at the outpost.
"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," said Mulholland, the deputy commander of the Special Operations Command.
"In short, your actions disgraced you as an officer and seriously compromised your character as a gentleman," Mulholland wrote.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org