Our man in Kabul: McChrystal replaces McKiernan

Our man in Kabul: McChrystal replaces McKiernan

The Washington Post reports that Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal will be replacing Gen. David McKiernan as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan:

The leadership shift comes as the Obama administration has voiced increasingly urgent concern about the surge in violence in Afghanistan as well as unrest in neighboring Pakistan.

“We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership is also needed,” Gates said at a hastily convened Pentagon news conference.

“I think these two officers will bring . . . a focus which we really need in 2009. And I just didn’t think we could wait until 2010,” Gates said.

Gates praised McChrystal [for] “a unique skill set in counterinsurgency” as well as “fresh thinking.”

A few important things to note about the Petraeus confidante.

First, most bloggers and news outlets seem to concur that the suddenness of the decision — the “hastily convened” press conference, for instance — underscore the seriousness of the situation in Afghanistan and the need for a “nonconventional” approach. 

McChrystal has experience in that approach. He led the covert special forces, which, in the evocative phrasing of the AP, “[fight] in the shadows of battles in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.” McChrystal commanded the black ops unit responsible for the manhunt and death of Iraqi insurgency leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. (That same unit allegedly abused detainees in a U.S. facility in Iraq, Joshua Foust notes — something McChrystal might have to answer for in his congressional review.) 

Second, McChrystal approved the Silver Star citation given posthumously to Pat Tillman, the former NFL player killed in action in Afghanistan. The award cited Tillman’s heroic conduct in “devastating enemy fire.”

But, at the time, McChrystal had already guessed that Tillman was accidentally killed by U.S. troops. He sent a back-channel memo advising then-President George W. Bush to avoid speaking about the “enemy fire.” Pentagon officials questioned McChrystal over his conduct, though, he ultimately wasn’t punished.  

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