Pentagon officials continued their silence on Tuesday about allegations against Greg Mortenson, the co-author of the best-selling “Three Cups of Tea,” after a fellow best-selling author and mountaineer, Jon Krakauer, released an article on byliner.com raising his own questions about the accuracy of Mr. Mortenson’s book and the management of his charity.
But Col. Christopher D. Kolenda, one of the United States military officials who first reached out to Mr. Mortenson because of the book’s inspirational lessons about girls’ education in Central Asia, said that Mr. Mortenson’s work had been vital to the American war effort in Afghanistan.
“My personal and professional interaction with Greg and his organization has proved invaluable in terms of contacts with elders from across the country and support for education in some critical areas,’’ Colonel Kolenda, now a senior adviser to Michele A. Flournoy, the under secretary of defense for policy, said in a brief phone conversation on Tuesday.
Colonel Kolenda declined any comment on the allegations against Mr. Mortenson, first by the CBS News program “60 Minutes” on Sunday and then by Mr. Krakauer in his article on Monday.
Both CBS and Mr. Krakauer said that the central, inspirational anecdote of the book was false: Mr. Mortenson, they said, never stumbled disoriented into the warm embrace of the village of Korphe in northeast Pakistan after failing to reach the summit of K2 and then in gratitude returned to build a school. CBS and Mr. Krakauer also said that Mr. Mortenson had grossly mismanaged the finances of his charity set up to build schools, mostly for girls, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mr. Mortenson has forcefully countered the allegations.
Colonel Kolenda, who read “Three Cups of Tea” in late 2007 when his wife sent it to him while he was commanding 700 American soldiers in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, was so taken with a central lesson in the book – reaching out to the local residents – that he contacted Mr. Mortenson. By June 2008, Mr. Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute had built a school near Colonel Kolenda’s base, in Kunar Province, close to the border with Pakistan. Although CBS and Mr. Krakauer said that some of Mr. Mortenson’s schools were empty, or did not even exist, Colonel Kolenda said that the school near his base, at least as of 2010, had students and was operating.
By 2009, Mr. Mortenson had become an unofficial adviser to the United States military in Afghanistan. That summer, Colonel Kolenda has recalled, Mr. Mortenson was in meetings in Kabul with him, village elders and at times Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, then President Obama’s top commander in the country.
Source: New York Times