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Gates Orders a Change of Command in Afghanistan

Posted on May 11, 2009

The Pentagon will be replacing the current top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, who has served in the position a mere 11 months. The decision comes on the heels of President Obama’s new plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan and marks a clear change in strategy in an increasingly complex war.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is recommending as McKiernan’s replacement Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, former head of the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq.

The Washington Post:

Gates refused to detail why he asked for McKiernan’s resignation. Instead he said that the Afghanistan mission “requires new thinking and new approaches from our military leaders. Today we have a new policy set by our new president. We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed.”

He said McKiernan would remain on the job until his replacement is confirmed by the Senate and in Afghanistan. He also announced that Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez be will assigned to the new position of deputy commander for Afghanistan forces.

Gates said there was no specific dispute that led to his decision to replace McKiernan, but he felt “a fresh approach, fresh look in the context of the new strategy, was appropriate.”

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By Sepharad, May 13, 2009 at 10:50 pm Link to this comment

jackpine, agree wholeheartedly that it would be better if we weren’t throwing away our soldiers’ lives and civilians’ lives that are inevitably lost in any war anywhere, anytime. But if we are going to do something that is really dumb, then better we do a better job with fewer people and get the hell out as soon as possible.

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By jackpine savage, May 13, 2009 at 6:24 am Link to this comment

For all you so excited about the McChrystal promotion, you’re in good company.

Max Boot is head over heals for the decision too.,0,1278653.story

What a change, from war protesting to being in round agreement with neoconservative thinkers. I’ll say it again, time to enlist or join an NGO and put your money where your mouths are.

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By Sepharad, May 12, 2009 at 11:46 pm Link to this comment

cyrena, gotta agree, McKiernan out and McCrystal in is a good move. McCrystal’s best points are that he is familiar with non-conventional warfare—which is the main factor that helped the American colonial militias and army get rid of the Brits in our own revolution—and because he is insisting that soldiers who go into Afghanistan have to be a lot better schooled re history and cultural of the people there as well as what everyone seems to be calling “asymmetrical” warfare. (The late-in-the-game simulation of Iraq in the Mojave desert, complete with Baghdad neighborhoods and rural village recreations, with hundreds of LA-area Iraqis volunteering as role players with soldiers on the way to Iraq, prepared many young people en route to that war. Our son-in-law helped establish that after his tour in the country [and before taking his battalion over insisted on teaching them basic Arabic and customs—has an Algerian Muslim grandmother). Now, he’s helping with similar training for Afghanistan though the Urdu and Pashtu languages are different. I wish he and so many other Americans were NOT going there, but if they must at least they will have a better chance of coming home safely, and these new policies might shorten our engagement. I gather Obama thinks it necessary to confront the Taliban and Al Quaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan; too bad Bush was distracted by a little thing like Iraq or we might already have accomplished those goals and saved thousands of lives. I think it’s more necessary for my little granddaughers and grandson to have their father at home, and from the very beginning (Shinseki’s resignation) have been the mother-in-law-from-hell trying to persuade him to retire and go back to being a husband and father and scientist. Obviously to no avail; he is grateful to this country for admitting his parents when they were in danger, and wants to protect it from outside religious extremists. (I DID warn our children against marrying idealists, but guess it didn’t take.)

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By GB, May 12, 2009 at 11:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The only reason for us to be in Iraq and/or Afghanistan is for our own detruction.
It was ridiculous for Pelosi to continue funding these wars in 2006 when she well knew (her family was profiting from it) bush lied about every reason to be there. It had nothing to do with our security, only negatively. Obama is wrong on this one. bush let the bin-laden family (bush family business partners) out of the US on 911 before the FBI could ask questions and then bush let osama bin-laden escape through Tora Bora into Pakistan. Everything about our presence there stinks period.

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By jackpine savage, May 12, 2009 at 9:23 pm Link to this comment

Hey Louise, what about the torture?

Petreaus said that AQ is not in Afghanistan anymore recently, so why are we?  And if you protested that invasion so loudly, how come you’re a cheerleader now?

You accuse everyone who doesn’t kowtow to Obama of being a Republican, but i’ll be damned if your long-winded post didn’t sound more Republican than most Republicans.

Go ahead and define “success” in Afghanistan and then we’ll talk.

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By Louise, May 12, 2009 at 7:11 pm Link to this comment


“Good move.”

jackpine savage,


“Gates emphasized at a press conference today that McKiernan didn’t do anything specifically wrong but that “fresh thinking” was needed urgently. The United States couldn’t just wait until the current commander’s term ran out.” Which is precisely what Bush did whenever his wars went awry. Now those who throw darts at Obama are forced to admit, Obama has the guts to make a change. Naturally they have a problem with that because their guy never did - have guts that is!

Heres a clue to who throws darts. They are by definition dissemblers, and by action dumb. Because no matter how much they throw at Obama, every time they do, they draw attention to the state of the wars, and draw attention to the party and the president who STARTED the wars! Oh, and remind us what a lousy job they did conducting their wars! In other words, the GOP apologists daily convict the GOP! Dumb, really dumb.

McChrystal was selected to deliver nationally televised Pentagon briefings on U.S. military operations in Iraq, including one in April 2003 shortly after the fall of Baghdad in which he said; “I would anticipate that the major combat engagements are over,” and went on to explain, U.S. forces are moving into a phase of “smaller, albeit sharper fights.” Which of course turned out to be correct. Although he could have substituted “more violent” for sharper. But that would have upset the Bush. He did not say “mission accomplished” but then neither did Bush until May. Rumsfeld edited the speech and removed that specific statement, but Bush liked it, so the banner stayed. And Bush went on to say it several times at several addresses until someone finally got through to him it wasn’t so. Besides, since Bush never actually knew what the Mission was (and at that time, nobody else did either) I guess he thinks he deserves a pass.

However, whether or not he did or didn’t there’s a bigger albeit less understood issue here. As selected spokesman for the Pentagon, McChrystal was briefed by, and answerable to the Pentagon. Most arm-chair warriors don’t know the Pentagon is typically run by a bunch of civilians. And of course McChrystal’s Commander In Chief was a civilian, an incredibly inept one I might add. Now ask yourself, if your Commander In Chief called you up and ordered you to announce mission accomplished, what would you do? Refuse and be retired, or try to word it in such a way as to not be misleading? People who do not have military experience, or understand discipline, or the chain of command, or what it means to take orders, (which would be just about all the Obama bashers) cant understand having to deal with that.

All that aside the main reason McChrystal has been selected is because of his success with terrorist cells. He’s good at finding them, rooting them out, and destroying them.  He proved that in Iraq, but you’ll never hear the apologists mention that, because they still want you to believe Bush’s so-called “surge” worked. Actually the drop in violence had absolutely nothing to do with the surge and everything to do with Special Operations troops under McChrystal’s command. Of course they will object to McChrystal - he might actually succeed in reducing the misidentification, leading to civilian deaths on the Afghan/Pakistan border, and that will never do. Keeping the blood bath going is far more important. The Obama bashers think they have something to prove - that they are right. If Obama turns out to be right and McChrystal actually succeeds, who will they bash then?

Oh duh ... Obama of course. Silly me.

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By jackpine savage, May 12, 2009 at 8:32 am Link to this comment

Oh please, Cyrena.  You don’t even know who McChrystal or McKiernan are, do you?

Your new poster boy for hope and change was the first to utter “Mission Accomplished”, and as Outraged’s NYT link details has been involved in all the Bush administration machinations that you used to write dissertations about.

The reason for the firing and the promotion is that McChrystal is a Petraeus boy, while McKiernan was originally Saint Pet’s commander for the Iraq invasion.  Petraeus is stacking the deck for his presidential aspirations in 2012 or 16.

It’s politics.  If it was really about the “new strategy”, then the replacement would have been made closer to February.

The old anti-war left dressing up in their imperial robes should go enlist (they’ve got civilian teams for academics now) and help implement the “new strategy”.

My only consolation is Gogol’s epithet: “I shall laugh my bitter laugh.”

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By GB, May 12, 2009 at 6:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Before bush invaded Afghanistan he told the Taliban to give up Osama Bin-Laden. The Taliban asked for proof Bin-Laden had anything to do with 911 before doing this. bush did not provide proof but instead lied to the world that the Taliban was refusing to hand over Bin-Laden and went ahead and invaded so the PNAC would start to get perpetual wars they wanted in the middle East. Then they made Karzi (Conocco-Philips consultant) president. This is what bothers me about Gates and some of Obama’s choice of hold overs from the cheney crime syndicate.

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By diamond, May 12, 2009 at 2:51 am Link to this comment

The new mission is clearly:

2. torturing
3. killing civilians

New mission, same as the old mission.

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By Outraged, May 12, 2009 at 12:10 am Link to this comment

Regarding McChrystal, from Wiki:

“McChrystal’s Zarqawi unit, Task Force 6-26, became notorious for its interrogation methods, particularly at Camp Nama, where it was accused of abusing detainees. After the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal became public in April 2004, 34 members of the task force were disciplined; five Army Rangers were ultimately convicted of prisoner abuse at Camp Nama.

McChrystal was also criticized for his role in the aftermath of the 2004 death by friendly fire of Ranger and former professional football player Pat Tillman…..  McChrystal was one of eight officers recommended for discipline by a subsequent Pentagon investigation but the Army declined to take action against him.

New York Times of March 19, 2006:

“Task Force 6-26 was a creation of the Pentagon’s post-Sept. 11 campaign against terrorism, and it quickly became the model for how the military would gain intelligence and battle insurgents in the future. Originally known as Task Force 121, it was formed in the summer of 2003, when the military merged two existing Special Operations units, one hunting Osama bin Laden in and around Afghanistan, and the other tracking Mr. Hussein in Iraq. (Its current name is Task Force 145.)”

Accusations of abuse by Task Force 6-26 came as no surprise to many other officials in Iraq. By early 2004, both the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. had expressed alarm about the military’s harsh interrogation techniques.

The C.I.A.‘s Baghdad station sent a cable to headquarters on Aug. 3, 2003, raising concern that Special Operations troops who served with agency officers had used techniques that had become too aggressive…...  Separately, the C.I.A. barred its officers from working at Camp Nama…”

The Black Room was part of a temporary detention site at Camp Nama, the secret headquarters of a shadowy military unit known as Task Force 6-26. Located at Baghdad International Airport, the camp was the first stop for many insurgents on their way to the Abu Ghraib prison a few miles away.

And:  “In January 2004, the task force captured the son of one of Mr. Hussein’s bodyguards in Tikrit. The man told Army investigators that he was forced to strip and that he was punched in the spine until he fainted, put in front of an air-conditioner while cold water was poured on him and kicked in the stomach until he vomited. Army investigators were forced to close their inquiry in June 2005 after they said task force members used battlefield pseudonyms that made it impossible to identify and locate the soldiers involved. The unit also asserted that 70 percent of its computer files had been lost.”

Newsweek, magazine issue dated Jun 26, 2006

“McChrystal’s role worries some who note that Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have given clandestine operations the lead in the war on terror—with little public accountability, including in the interrogation room.

Start writing your senators, this man should NOT be confirmed, he shouldn’t even be allowed in our military.

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By David Parish, May 11, 2009 at 3:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“I found myself awash with a sense of injustice that I could not define.  Or perhaps it was merely that I was young.  I had never seen with such clarity that … courage could destroy one man while flight could make another man king.”

from “The Emperor’s General” James Webb

General McChrystal was a key figure involved in covering up the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman five years ago in Afghanistan.  He approved Pat’s Silver Star citation filled with falsehoods, even though he received confirmation of Pat’s friendly fire death within a couple of days of his death (the Army says it took them six weeks!). 

McChrystal and all the other top Generals and politicians used Pat’s death to get some good PR just after the pictures from Abu Gharib were released.  Scotty McClellan (White House press secretary “couldn’t recall” anything about it during his testimony before Congress (and mentioned nothing about Tillman in his “tell-all” book.

The final “investigation” by Congress (and a review by the Senate Armed Services Committee) was a half-hearted joke.  They allowed McChrystal to avoid testifying and didn’t dig into his role in the Tillman cover-up.

Pat Tillman was defined by his sense of integrity and honor.  It’s a travesty those involved in tarnishing his legacy have continued on unpunished or even rewarded for their actions.

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By samosamo, May 11, 2009 at 3:00 pm Link to this comment

The only complexity I see here is why haven’t we totally pulled out yet?

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By cyrena, May 11, 2009 at 12:28 pm Link to this comment

Good move.

This is what I like to hear…

“...Gates refused to detail why he asked for McKiernan’s resignation. Instead he said that the Afghanistan mission “requires new thinking and new approaches from our military leaders. Today we have a new policy set by our new president. We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed.”

So, there it is. A new mission and a new direction. (nobody ever knew what the ‘old’ mission was to begin with).

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