5 years, 5 months ago
There continues to be robust conversation in e-mail, comments, articles and discussion threads over the replacement of General David McKiernan with General Stanley McChrystal. Look. Let’s cover a couple of details about this that we may have missed the first time around. Every report about General McChrystal is positive, and if Petraeus had wanted him because of familiarity, then so be it. It’s his call. My concern is that it portends a larger sea change in Afghanistan, one that relies not on boots on the ground, but a much smaller footprint relying on a high value target scheme. The small footprint is one thing that got us here to begin with. But there is a narrative developing concerning this move that really seems to miss the point. An example of it comes from Michael Goldfarb.
Earlier today, Defense Secretary Bob Gates unexpectedly announced that he had asked for the resignation of General David McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan. For most Afghan policy insiders, this came as cause for quiet relief. By all accounts, McKiernan is an honorable soldier who, to his everlasting credit, campaigned vigorously for the additional U.S. troops that are needed to turn the tide in Afghanistan, and that President Obama has begun to provide. But McKiernan also left a great deal to be desired. He was, in fact, an uncreative and conventional thinker who was failing palpably at figuring out how to adapt the principles of counterinsurgency into the specific operational context of Afghanistan — the kind of military art that made the surge a success. Indeed, many visitors to McKiernan’s Kabul headquarters walked away with the nagging feeling that he didn’t really have a plan to defeat the insurgency at all — just a vague commitment to keep on slogging, ideally with more resources.
The departure of McKiernan thus opens the door to a host of long-delayed reforms, including an expansion of the Afghan National Security Forces, a reform of the command structure, and the development of a joint civil-military campaign plan. Let’s hope that Generals McChrystal and Rodriguez prove up to the task.
Oh horseshit! The Afghan forces are expanding as fast as they can possibly go, growing beyond what some analysts believe can be sustained by the Afghanistan economy or culture when the U.S. pulls out. Additionally, the Afghan National Army is shot through with drug abuse, as is the Afghan police shot through with both drug abuse and corruption. Required viewing for all those who believe that rapid turnover to the Afghan Army is in the cards or can be a major part of the strategy at the present: Afghanistan’s Failing Army. View it and then tell me about needed reforms concerning expansion of the Afghan National Army.
We’ve had MiTT teams for months and even years, the State Department has been begged to engage the campaign, and the U.S. Marines are in Now Zad while elements of the U.S. Army are in the Korangal Valley, both engaged in fierce fights with hard core Taliban. We have Green Berets training the Afghan National Army recruits, and female Marines embedded with infantry to ensure cultural sensitivities aren’t violated when talking to the women of households (which under other circumstances is a violation of protocol since females aren’t allowed in infantry in the Corps).
What was McKiernan supposed to do with an under-resourced campaign and a drug-addicted medieval society? Does General McChrystal have a magic wand that General McKiernan doesn’t?
There may be elements of truth to the reports, such as McKiernan was too comfortable with incompetent NATO allies, but since I have no direct knowledge of this I will leave it to those who do. But when leveling accusations and charges, insults and charges of long-delayed reforms, we should be direct, honest, comprehensive, and our prose should be based on evidence.
I have evidence as to the incompetence of General Rodriguez, at least in terms of his judgment. Most of the narrative coming out now is based on emotion rather than evidence. To my knowledge there are no long-delayed reforms in the campaign except [a] too many troops stationed on large bases, and [b] NATO red tape. These problems are fixable regardless of the chain of command, and the problem of troops on large FOBs is being fixed as we write.
The more likely scenario? “General McKiernan asked for 30,000 more troops in 2008 when he took over from the NATO mission which had essentially failed. Bush gave him 6,000 of those troops. Obama has given him, will have given him 21,000 by the end of this year and they’re considering another 10,000 next year. And it’s a fine old military tradition that you sack the guy who asked for reasonable resources and then give those resources to his successor who is then successful” (h/t Richard at Defence of the Realm).