The commander of the Afghanistan war was replaced Monday, marking a major turn in leadership of a war that has quickly gone downhill and a rare move against a top commander of a theater of war. "Fresh thinking" is needed to turn around the war against a resurgent Taliban after seven years of effort by the U.S. and allies, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said. Gen. David McKiernan, less than a year in the job, will be replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a Green Beret who commanded special operations in Iraq.
Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal
McChrystal, now a senior administrator with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is seen as a counterinsurgency war expert and is credited as the architect of U.S. special operations missions in Iraq, stepping up the use of highly trained troops and helping to undercut both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. The replacement of McKiernan, who has a more conventional background, comes as more than 21,000 additional U.S. forces begin to arrive in Afghanistan to confront the Taliban more forcefully. McChrystal served in Afghanistan as chief of staff of military operations in 2001 and 2002 and recently has been leading an effort for Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to examine ways to improve the Afghanistan war effort. He also served tours in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. In June 2006, McChrystal was singled out for praise by former President George Bush for the operation that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. Forces under McChrystal's command were also credited with finding and capturing Saddam Hussein.
A note of controversy: One spot on McChrystal's generally sterling military record came in 2007, when he came under fire for his role in the furor over the friendly fire shooting of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, a former NFL star, in Afghanistan. An investigation at the time found that McChrystal was "accountable for the inaccurate and misleading assertions." He acknowledged he had suspected several days before approving a Silver Star citation that Tillman may have died by "friendly fire" rather than enemy fire.
McKiernan's brief tenure
McKiernan, who was tapped by Bush and took over as commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan on June 3, had expected to serve into next year but was told he was out during Gates' visit to Afghanistan last week. Gates would not say why he was replacing McKiernan, who repeatedly pressed for more troops and spent much of his time trying to reach out to Afghans. Among military officers, there was wide disappointment McKiernan did not move quickly on a new plan after Obama announced his new Afghan strategy in March.