Monday, May 11, 2009

McKiernan Replaced in Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has, according to the Associated Press, decided to replace General David McKiernan, who is double-hatted as both the US commander in Afghanistan, and the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there. General McKiernan's replacement is to be Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, presently in the Pentagon as Director of the Joint Staff.
The Associated Press story states that Secretary Gates asked General McKiernan to resign his post and that this "probably" ends his career.
I am sorry to read this, I happen to think that General McKiernan (commander of the US 3rd Army, which was US Central Command's main ground component during the Second Gulf War [ARCENT] march to Baghdad) -- never got the promotion, recognition and preferment that should have been his due.
During the planning phase of the war in Iraq, General McKiernan consistently (and correctly) demanded more troops than Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and his boss (General Tommy Franks) wanted to allocate; and he was the first senior commander to recognize that the Fedayeen Saddam (and not the Republican Guard) were the real locus of military opposition. Despite the lack of cooperation or even understanding from seniors higher up on the command chain, General McKiernan worked with what he had, solved his problems and still got the Army to Baghdad faster than the Iraqis thought remotely possible.
When the war yielded to pacification operations, McKiernan was (in my opinion) wrongfully passed over as Franks' successor to the command in Iraq in favor of the much more junior and recently promoted Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez.
It will be interesting to see what prompted Secretary Gates to relieve General McKiernan so publicly. My bet would be that McKiernan's side of the story will be both hard to come by, and very well-reasoned. The US effort in Afghanistan is at best stalled, at worst in serious trouble, but this is hardly General McKiernan's fault: the General has, to the best of his considerable ability, been running a poorly-funded war in a land-locked country with few roads; populated by people who hate foreigners and foreign soldiers; with hostiles on virtually every border. The reinforcements McKiernan and others have been crying for are now in the pipeline. Whether more troops will actually make a difference, and whether this war is at all winnable, I beg leave to doubt.
In any case, General McKiernan's relief really smells, and for the second time in his long and decorated service to the United States, it appears that General McKiernan has been ill-used. General McKiernan has no reason to envy the incoming General McChrystal custody of the Afghanistan tar-baby, but this is a sad end to the career of a man who, based on the quality of his service, probably should have been Chief of Staff of the Army.


Anonymous said...

This is a well-written commentary. People may view Iraq as a backward nation with no respect for law or central government, but Iraq is centuries ahead of Afghanistan in this regard. Your point regarding Afghanistan being land-locked is especially important, since US military supply line is severely impacted having to truck supplies through Pakistan or former Soviet republics to the north.

Whereas Sunnis in Iraq finally stood up to counter the insurgents, there is no such action by civilians in Afghanistan. When the citizens aren't willing to bleed for safety in their own nation, no amount of sacrifice by American troops will suffice. This, sadly enough, is a point under-appreciated by our leaders.

One can see that throughout past history, we Americans have never succeeded in democratizing a nation when the citizens of that nation refuse to stand with us and die with us. Nations that we conquer and stabilize in this lackluster fashion eventually return to the banana republic former self.

Texas Gator Girl said...

Perphaps Gates wants a "YES" man to be in Afghanistan - too bad for McKiernan, indeed.

hank_F_M said...

What worries me is the “old army/new army” reason given. Special ops is important, it is a difficult skill and a useful capability. But it is one of many which are necessary. McKiernan seems to put the package together well, if General McChrystal does the “old army” thing of putting it together well it may not hurt. (and as Director of the Joint Staff, that should be something does well) If he over emphasizes special ops to the detriment of other parts on the mission things will be worse. Which if the press coverage is accurate is what is wanted of him.

There seems to be an attitude in the media our civilian leadership of both parties that Special Ops are a magic wand, wave it and all sorts of messy stuff go away. I assume that General McChrystal is to smart for that but I am not at all sure about the Commander and chief and political allies.

P.S. the complaint is not about the special ops people who some of our best soldiers, it is about politicians who throw away their lives, by trying to use them as short cut.