Earlier today, SecDef Gates announced that General David McKiernan was stepping down as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan. His replacement is Lt. General Stanley McChrytsal. Gates is billing this as a way to get “fresh thinking” on the situation.
The only insight I can offer at this time is from a U.S. official in Kabul who I spoke to recently. The official told me that the Americans at NATO headquarters weren’t too thrilled by Obama’s Af/Pak plan. “Disappointed,” was the word this official used. Obama wasn’t giving the commanders what they felt they needed to do the job–ie, more troops, more airpower, more of everything, basically. McKiernan and his top officers had a wish list of resources they had wanted–and I think expected–from Obama, and that wish list wasn’t granted.
Instead, Obama made the kind of cautious moves that we’re used to from him–only 17,000 troops now, plus 4,000 trainers. But really, not the kind of massive commitment that U.S. military officials I spoke to believed they needed to actually be effective in working the new strategy.
Putting on my speculating goggles:
A) It looks like the Obama adminstration has decided to put someone who will be expected to work with less, or work more “creatively”
B) Gates knocks McKiernan for being too “conventional.”
C) It should be noted that it was the “conventional” McKiernan who had proposed the much more reasonable COBRA II plan that called for more troops to go into Iraq. Rumsfeld shot that plan down.
D) McKiernan paid a price for standing up to Rumsfeld. (Rummy blocked his fourth star for awhile.)
E) Is McKiernan again paying a price for giving unwelcome news to his civilian higher ups? That is, to actually “win” in Afghanistan requires a lot more than the Obama administration is willing to commit?
F) McKiernan was proven right with COBRA II; will he be proven right on Af/Pak in a few years from now?
G) This is another chapter in the dominant military narrative of late: the Coindinista Revolution against The Old Dudes Who Don’t Get It. Or, the “old guard versus the new guard,” as Fred Kaplan calls it.
H) Lately, the so called old guard has been getting clobbered. When/how will they start pushing back? Will anyone come to McKiernan’s defense?