Best Defense

Who’s in command in Afghanistan? A scorecard that indicates a lack of focus

Changes of command, particularly at the highest levels, which put tremendous stress on the force and continuity of command, are just as important as the principle of unity of command.

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By Maj. Claude Lambert
Best Defense guest columnist

Our war in Afghanistan has had not just a complex command and control structure, but also military command continuity challenges aside from its complex command and control architecture.

Changes of command, particularly at the highest levels, which put tremendous stress on the force and continuity of command, are just as important as the principle of unity of command. Therefore, as Washington mulls over whether to change direction in Afghanistan, command continuity should play a prominent role in the discussion.

From 2007 to 2014 there were seven International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commanders appointed to manage the war in Afghanistan. During this time, the longest tenure for an American ISAF commander was 19 months. Conversely, in World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower served as Commanding General of Allied Expeditionary forces in Europe from 1942-1945.   Also, in Vietnam, two out of four U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam commanders served four years apiece — providing significant continuity of command for the U.S. national command authority.

Throughout military history, commanders have come and gone in disputes over policy and execution. But it is difficult to deny that frequent changes of command at the highest levels are disruptive events. Even if the overall strategy does not change, newly installed commanders and their staffs routinely conduct 60 to 90 day assessments and strategy reviews that frequently shift or alter the momentum at the operational and tactical levels of war.

Major Claude A. Lambert is an active duty U.S. Army Strategist. The views expressed here are solely his own and do not reflect the views of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, U.S. Army, or U.S. Special Operations Command.    

Photo credit: the author

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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