Course Change In Afghanistan: McKiernan Relieved of Command

Discussion in 'World Events' started by Tiassa, May 12, 2009.

  1. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Monday announced a shakeup in the leadership of the American war effort in Afghanistan. The change of course, the Secretary said, resulted from the need for "fresh thinking" and "fresh eyes" in the Afghani conflict. Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal will succeed Gen. David McKiernan, whose resignation Gates requested.

    "We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador," said Secretary Gates. "I believe that new military leadership is also needed."

    He has also recommended that his own military assistant, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, be McChrystal's deputy.

    [McChrystal's] selection marks the continued ascendancy of officers who have pressed for the use of counterinsurgency tactics, in Iraq and Afghanistan, that are markedly different from the Army's traditional doctrine ....

    .... McKiernan, an armor officer who led U.S. ground forces during the 2003 Iraq invasion, was viewed as somewhat cautious and conventionally minded, according to senior officials inside and outside the Pentagon.

    Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. forces in the region, has pressed aggressively to broaden the military's mission in Afghanistan and Iraq beyond killing the enemy to protecting the population, overseeing reconstruction projects and rebuilding local governance. Petraeus played a key role in the Obama administration's strategic review of the Afghanistan conflict and was involved in the decision to remove McKiernan, which Petraeus said in a statement he "fully supports."

    (Tyson, "Fired")

    The selection of McChrystal, a veteran Special Operations commander, marks a rare midstream change of command, but reflects Gates' outlook on accountability. The Secretary has been known to relieve senior military and civilian officials when problems pile up.

    McChrystal apparently impressed President Obama with forthright suggestions that more troops are needed in Afghanistan, an initiative that is now under way.

    Secretary Gates offered no direct criticism of the outgoing Gen. McKiernan during the press conference, and praised his "distinguished service". Other officials, though, suggested that McKiernan's approach "was not bold or nimble enough to reenergize a campaign in which US and other NATO troops had reached a stalemate against Taliban insurgents", and one specifically asserted that the campaign in Afghanistan was too cautious about backing local militias, a tactic that found much success under Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq.

    "It's way too modest," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "We don't have 2009 to experiment in Wardak province," where one such militia has been set up. "I think we've got about two years in this mission. The trend lines better start swinging in our direction or we're going to lose the international community and we're going to lose Washington."


    McKiernan is not without supporters, some of whom described his methods as prudent. He has much sympathy among Army officers who say the shortage of American troops in Afghanistan limited his tactical and strategic options.

    McKiernan "was running a very under-resourced theater and doing as well as anyone could expect," said one senior officer. This officer and others would discuss their views only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the record.

    Moreover, officers said, McKiernan, who was admired as a solid commander and one with integrity, did not deserve to have his career ended by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates requesting his resignation.

    "I am disappointed for General McKiernan to go out this way," the officer said. "I don't think that this sort of an ending to his career is fair."

    Nevertheless, officers and analysts acknowledged that McKiernan might not possess the extraordinary skills required for the challenges posed by Afghanistan.

    "Basically, McKiernan did a good job, but they need someone that they think can do an excellent job," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution. "In normal times, that would not be reason enough to relieve a four-star [general]. But, of course, these aren't ordinary times."

    (Tyson, "Sympathy")

    It is hard to tell whether this is good news or bad. Critics of the war and President Obama will point to the suggestion of instability. Administration supporters will hold this change up as evidence that the president is correcting the course of the war in hopes of bringing a better result; McKiernan, they will say, is a casualty of the Bush administration's bungling of the mission in Afghanistan.

    And still there are others who will point out that no invader has ever won in the Hindu Kush, and wonder how much difference a leadership change will actually make.

    Time will tell, truth will out, and any number of clichés apply On the home front, all we can really do is wait and see.

    And in an era of lowered expectations, it is getting harder to tell what victory looks like. A stable, prosperous, and friendly Afghanistan seems nearly a pipe dream; while such an outcome is not impossible, the route to that end has yet to be discovered, and thus is something of a challenge to describe.

    Best of luck to Generals McChrystal and Rodriguez, and our thanks to the departing Gen. McKiernan. Few, indeed, are those who would blame him for the debacle.


    Scott Tyson, Ann. "Top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Is Fired". Washington Post. May 12, 2009. Accessed May 12, 2009.

    —————. "Sympathy for McKiernan Among Officers". Washington Post. May 12, 2009. Accessed May 12, 2009.
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  3. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    How is more of the same a winning strategy in a losing war? This is bad news, Pakistan will become even more unstable if more troops go in and start bombing willy nilly.
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  5. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    It's not actually more of the same

    To the pacifist or partisan it might be more of the same. But in the general American outlook, the difference of approaches between an artillery commander and a Special Ops commander is not what one would call negligible.

    An American president can't just look at the war and say, "Well, nobody wins in the Kush, so let's bring 'em all home." We're in this one. Obama has to try, even though I couldn't tell you what victory looks like. (Well, I could, I guess, but that result ain't happening.)

    Think of it this way: By traditions of warfare—whatever else we might think of them—we had the right to go into Afghanistan. But Bush wanted to be in Iraq, so he never really put the full weight of the American military behind the effort in Afghanistan. I"m of the opinion that the failure to catch Bin Laden was a deliberate and treasonous choice by President Bush. Warmongers need Bin Laden out there in order to justify the rest.

    The one military official suggested that we have about two years left in Afghanistan before we lose the world and thereby Washington. It's going to take most of that for Obama to deliver on Iraq. If Obama can make a positive change in Afghanistan during that period, it might extend the Afghani mission viability for a short while. And that might be enough time to make one last press against the Taliban with the full might of the American military.


    Of course, that will only prove that you don't invade the Kush and win, but still ... from the political perspective, Obama is making a change that probably should have been made a while ago. It would be problematic to bring the troops home and say, "Welcome home. I know you gave it your all, but we in Washington didn't want to give it ours."

    Hell, if I was president, I don't think I could look 'em in the eye and say it.
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  7. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    You know, if the Afghanis want to move to North America or Europe and decide to establish their Pashtun communities there, I hope the people are as accomodating.
  8. StrawDog disseminated primatemaia Valued Senior Member

    It is apparent that "A" change is needed. If this General can bring some specific experience and skills to the table, and thus limiting this pointless war, that would be a good thing. What is also desperately needed is a clear outline of the strategy for Afghanistan and what exactly the intended outcomes are. If this could be tied into a time line for achieving KPI`s, all the better.

    To look at the broader picture, Obama did in a sense inherit this war, but for one who espoused "PEACE" so prominently, in his acceptance speech, all one can see is an escalation of conflict.
  9. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    The advance indications would be that there would now be less bombing willynilly, and more dealcutting with the locals.

    Time will tell.
  10. Roman Banned Banned

    I thought it was about a pipeline.
  11. Roman Banned Banned

    Time's already told.
    We go in, muck up the locals, put a guy in power who needs our guns and spec ops to stay in power, and get cheap fruit, labor, or oil from him.
  12. otheadp Banned Banned

    Special ops are extremely flexible and fast adapting, as opposed to artillery, trucks, regular armies, etc... because the Taliban are swift and fluid. By the time the normal cumbersome army begins to move its ass with all its prep and planning, the Taliban are long gone. Special ops are the answer to that, and the incoming commander is a specialist in special ops.

    This is the same as when you had an electrician trying to fix your plumbing, and you finally realized you better call a plumber instead.
  13. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Or let your neighbor fix his own plumbing - and quit trying to leech off his cable service.
  14. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    This and that

    I can't choose between the obvious, "It's a pipeline dream, then," and the ... er ... um ... equally obvious, "Anyone who ever really thought this was about stability, prosperity, and friendship in Afghanistan is probably smoking something."

    So I'll throw 'em both out there.

    • • •​

    Obama has consistently been more hawkish about Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iraq is the big problem.

    See, as a blatant liberal for whom most of the Democratic Party seems far too right-wing for its own or the nation's health, even I can't deny that by the traditions of warfare we had every right to go in.

    However, I was exceptionally disappointed with the Bush administration's rush to action, and the subsequent administrative botching of this war is what has, in the end, sucked every last drop of hope out of it.

    But this is the one we're supposed to be in, if we must be in any war at all. I can understand why Obama wants to give it a fair shot before rolling up the operation and coming home. I'm not expecting miracles, but even a shred of redemption would go a long way.

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