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Is McCrystal the “Petraeus” Of Afghanistan?

There was no “nicety” to this very public change of commanders in Afghanistan. In command for only 11 months, Gen. David McKiernan has been fired. In his place will be LTG Stanley A. McChrystal. Secretary Gates made it clear:

“Our mission there requires new thinking and new approaches by our military leaders,” said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at a news conference this afternoon announcing General McKiernan’s dismissal.

Gates tried to smooth it over a bit (generals and admirals don’t like to be handled like this):

Mr. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered few reasons for General McKiernan’s ouster beyond generalities that “fresh eyes” were needed. “Nothing went wrong and there was nothing specific,” Mr. Gates said. It was simply his conviction, he added, “that a new approach was probably in our best interest.”

The media will give you the boilerplate on McChrystal’s career including his recent stint as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command who ran all special operations in Iraq (and his part in the Pat Tillman investigation which wasn’t quite as sterling).

But there’s more to it than just the fact that he commanded JSOC in Iraq. As abu muqawama points out, there was a big improvement in JSOC after McChrystal took command and how that impressed a certain other commander:

I do know that many policy-makers and journalists think that McChrystal’s work as the head of the super-secret Joint Special Operations Command was the untold success story of the Surge and the greater war on terror campaigns. I also know that McChrystal and David Petraeus forged a close working relationship in Iraq in 2007 and have much respect for one another. (Prior to 2007, the relations between the direct-action special operations task force and the overall command in Iraq were strained at best.)

So my guess is that Gen. Petraeus had a hand in McKiernan’s new status as “former commander”. Apparently he wasn’t seeing in McKiernan the type of thinking Petraeus feels is necessary to win in Afganistan.  He may see in McChrystal the type of outside-the-box thinking he feels is necessary to turn the effort around there.

Abu again:

I do not know if the war in Afghanistan is winnable. But I do know that Stan McChrystal is an automatic starter in anyone’s line-up.

Game on.

Frankly, I’m pleased with the move. Time will tell if it pans out, but it shows me a seriousness about the war in Afghanistan that I wasn’t sure existed within this administration. This isn’t a half-hearted move.   Tip of the cap to the Obama administration for doing what I believe is necessary to move the war forward in a positive manner. Credit where credit is due and all of that.


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12 Responses to Is McCrystal the “Petraeus” Of Afghanistan?

  • Admiral William Fallon + McKiernan?
    Rummy Gates + McChrystal

    Not good.
    NAM Redux

    Afghanistan is THE troop nightmare.
    Patrick Daniel Tillman

  • Excellent choice!  Bringing General McCrystal into the mix is an brilliant move by Gates and Petraeus.

  • I don’t know anything about it, but, it’s clear the Taliban and Al-Qaeda would love to be the next nuclear power in the world. Understanding that and the deeply held love they have expressed so often for we Americans, I really don’t care what the new guy’s name is as long as he plants them at a rate commensurate to what is required to put these groups out of existence as quickly as possible and get our guys in combat the hell out of there.
    Anything less is akin to playing Russian roulette in LasTehran.  It may be exciting but you can lose your ass.

  • Not sure what to make of it.  Is this a case of Abrams replacing Westmoreland… or of Hooker replacing Burnside?  I’d like to know more about what McKiernan has done or not done in A-stan and what McChrystal plans to do differently.  Is this change for the sake of change, or did Gates / DoD make a thoughtful decision?
    This aside, it seems to me on the face of it that McChrystal is a good pick.  He’s special ops and has been associated with the Special Forces since early in his career; in contrast, McKiernan’s career appears to have been oriented more toward armor / mech infantry / conventional war.^  Hopefully, McChrystal will bring a winning strategy for dealing with the Taliban.

    The big question is why the Taliban are doing so well.  Have they really got that much support among the people in A-stan and Pakistan?  If so, what can we do to undercut it?  What are we doing to “win hearts and minds”?  Are we backing the wrong horse with Karzai?  Or have we not given him the support he needs?  NATO is involved; do we have too many chefs stirring the soup?  I have many unanswered questions about the fight in A-stan; if somebody can direct me to a good book, I’d be grateful.*

    Unrelated but of interest to me, then-MG McChrystal had this to say about “mission accomplished” back in ’03:

    “I would anticipate that the major combat engagements are over,” Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. He said U.S. forces are moving into a phase of ‘smaller, albeit sharper fights.'”


    (^) I note that armor was also Abrams’ background, yet he, along with Bunker and Colby, crafted a damned effective strategy in Vietnam.  Unfortunately, the filthy democrats forced a defeat even after the strategy bore fruit.

    (*) “Good” book is defined as one that is preferably written by somebody who has been in A-stan for more than a couple of weeks, been to parts of the country beyond his hotel in Kabul, preferably was in a combat unit, understands the history and culture(s) of the people in A-stan, and doesn’t spend all of his time trying to prove that it’s all Bush’s fault.  If I want an uninformative, mind-numbing polemic of that sort, I’ll just read some of the comments here.

  • I’m assuming that this was a Patraeus decision, but Gates chose to be the messenger. A new team for a new policy.

    But, let’s not forget who does most of the fighting and dying, the infantry and the Marines. SF does not have a monopoly on “getting it”. There is not and has never been a “silver bullet” to winning this fight. Basic execution of counter-insurgency fundamentals is what needs to be done. And that does not have anything to do with what tab you do or do not wear on your shoulder.

    I will note one important fact. McKiernan (and the JCS) originally asked for twice as many troops as have been allocated. Not sitting in the Pentagon, I have no idea whether this was feasible.  But I do remember that one of our failings in Vietnam was a default position of sending troops piecemeal. I hope we are not headed down that road again.

    • Good comment – a couple of points: I don’t see McChrystal’s appointment as saying “SF has a monopoly on getting it”. I think instead it says someone better schooled and experienced in asymetrical warfare is probably a better choice (the knock on McKiernan was he was too “conventional”). Secondly, the fact that the JCS and McKiernan requested twice the troops doesn’t necessarily make such a request appropriate (or “right”). That too may have been a result of his “too convetional” thinking (I’d love to know the mix of troops he and the JCS requested).

      Then there’s also a comfort level – Petraeus worked with McChrystal and knows how he thinks and his leadership style and capabilities. My guess is he thinks McChrystal is a much better fit than McKiernan for what Petraeus planned for A’stan.

      • The difficulty in writing about this is all of the unknown unknowns. Trying to interpret this change is almost as difficult as reading the old USSR. And that was probably easier since the patterns of behavior were more consistent.

        My interpretation is pretty much along your lines. Patraeus would be more comfortable with McChrystal in command for the reasons you stated. I’d prefer to leave it at that. Opinions about who is better at asymetric conflict etc are just that, and I don’t know enough about either officer. The point I, which I did not make very clear, is that the counter-insurgency success in Iraq were formulated  by and executed by regular old ground guys. From the short bits I’ve read about McChrystal, he was responsible for hunter/killer ops. A necessary but not sufficient prong of a multi-pronged program.

        As for the numbers of troops, quantity has a quality all its own. When a primary focus is protecting a scattered populace, numbers make a difference. But, it’s too early to tell anything right now. I just hope we are not intentionally limiting ourselves in pursuit of some domestic political goal.

        • I agree Steve. That is certainly a caution with this administration. However, this seems to be a decision that I would guess was initiated by Petraeus. He had 11 months to look at McKiernan and apparently didn’t like what he saw. He wasn’t about to pull Odierno from iraq (the man knows the lay of the land there better than anyone) and he is apparently comfortable with McChrystal.

          I’d disagree with your point slightly about the COIN success being “formulated by … regular old ground guys”. It was McMasters, Petreaus and others who, while certainly from the “conventional” side of the house, were trying different things while in Iraq. McMaster is the prime example with Tal Afar where, while in command of the 3ACR he essentaily did the test case for what would become the larger COIN doctrine. But, when you look at our “new” doctrine, it is, essentially, a variation of doctrine our SF units have been operating under since VN. COIN is much more than just military ops. The fact that I see McKirnan described as too “conventional” tells me he was concentrating more on the military side of operations to the detriment of the civil/military side of the house which is critical to COIN success.

          Additionally, while McChrystal was responsible for the SOC ops in Iraq, and you note that alone isn’t “sufficient” in a “multi-prong approach”, I’d remind you of abu’s point – “Prior to 2007, the relations between the direct-action special operations task force and the overall command in Iraq were strained at best.”

          That’s a critical point. It implies that McChrystal is a) a team player, b) understands his command was only one “prong” in a multi-prong approach, c) was able to control the somewhat natural hubris of SOC into one of commitment to a plan and its results, d) understands what “joint ops” means and e) accepted the role SOC had in that theater. That’s a “he gets it” performance and one I think impressed Petraeus.

  • Fresh and new are mere Obama buzz words.    Fresh and new don’t prevail in war.   Competency does.   Ir n competency where Obama has failed, time and again.    Obama professed to serious about fixing then economy.  He got his so-called stinulus bill and the Obama economy continues to shrink. 

    Obama declared that he going to shrink the deficit, and go through the budget “line by line.”   The deficit grows to historic proportion.

    Obama and Ayers burned  throughj millions of dollar for one end in an purported attempt to fix education in Chicago.

    Obama’s plan to save Crysler,  lost tax payer money, robbed creditors of their rightful propety and wrecked havoc on the rule of law.

    In short, Barack Obama’s middle name is not conpetent.

    • Sure, but it looks like he let the right people make the decisions on this one. He deserves credit for that.

  • I’m definitely one who is willing to give credit when and to whom it is due, and I am wary of those who attack President Obama for the wrong reasons (although I disagree with about 99% of his views/intentions), BUT with that said…

    Obama administration my ASS. This was 100% Secretary Gates and General Petraeus. And, one might say, “Gates is part of the Obama administration, no?” The only reason Gates was kept on was so that he could either (1) win in Afghanistan: Obama administration wins automatically, or (2) fail in Afghanistan: Obama administration wins by having a pre-positioned Republican fall-guy.

    Anyway, I, of course, hope McChristol succeeds–first and foremost, obviously, because I’m an American. But secondly, it would make Gates a damn good presidential candidate in a few years, and I think he is a pragmatist who could govern from the center. For those reasons though, the GOP will never give him the chance….