Michael's Dispatches

Gates, Petraeus, McKiernan, McChrystal and Rodriguez


13 May 2009

Again, this is a quick email.  The Gurkhas here in Brunei just conducted a live fire training exercise.  They walked half the night carrying between 80-100lbs, mostly ammo, and made an assault at first light.

Every British officer I talk with asks what in the world happened with General McKiernan, and why was his relief performed so publicly.  I do not know.  And I do not personally know General McKiernan.  I do know that these ears have never heard someone speak a foul word about him, and I talk with lots of interesting people.  If he, McKiernan, was a bad general I would have heard about it.

However, General McKiernan did make some statements about additional troops to Afghanistan, and when he made those statements I remember thinking, “He’s going to get fired.”  And so those statements were the first thing that came to my mind.  McKiernan has been saying we need more troops than are already on the way.  I do not have the training or experience to say how many troops we need in Afghanistan, but I know we could use a lot more than we have there now.  Yet it did seem like General McKiernan was pushing the envelope.  That doesn’t make him a bad general in my eyes.  His envelope-pushing speaks of professional courage and honesty, but also one can imagine that leadership might want to keep some opinions in-house.

But another clue is something that Secretary Gates said to me privately.  Actually, LTG David Rodriguez was there, and Rodriguez is tapped to take the number two spot in Afghanistan.   Secretary Gates said that his number one concern for Afghanistan is that we will lose the support of the Afghan people.  The recent loss of a great number of Afghans was undoubtedly upsetting for Secretary Gates and many others.  If we lose widespread support from the Afghan people, the war will be lost.  Some Russians like to say we are making the same mistakes that the Soviets made, but that’s untrue.  Atrocity was their middle name.  Many of the Afghans I talk with hate the Russians with incendiary passion.  Contrast this with the fact that I recently drove about a thousand miles around Afghanistan, without the Army.  Many Afghans know I am an American yet are very friendly.  If our military was treating them badly, I could not have made that trip.  Nevertheless, accidental mass carnage from our side is turning more and more people against us.

Gates is extremely smart and he knows the area.  He knows that more troops can obviously create more problems, and so this must be a tough judgment call for him and the generals, much less the President.  It’s also extremely expensive to support our troops in Afghanistan.  Far more so than in Iraq.  Our supply lines also are vulnerable.  I asked General Petraeus about this resupply issue and he seemed confident that we can work it out.  General Petraeus is about as no-nonsense as they come.  I ascribe great weight to his words.  In my experience, Petraeus always told the good, the bad and the ugly about Iraq.  (Unfortunately, the Iraq war might rekindle if we ignore it.  There are signals coming from Iraq that lead me to believe we could fumble that ball.  However, with Gates, Petraeus and Odierno on the field, I believe that the Pentagon will be more forthright about Iraq than we saw some years ago.)

But the issue of troop strength in Afghanistan is prickly on many levels ranging from international politics all the way down to the nitty-gritty of resupply.

In regard to Lieutenant General McChrystal, his reputation is enviable.  McChrystal’s reputation is as solid as that of Generals Mattis or Petraeus, but fewer people have heard of McChrystal.  I know some very interesting folks in the special operations world, and McChrystal gets a five-star rating out of five stars.  That comes from officers and enlisted.

McChrystal’s number two man will be Lieutenant General David Rodriguez.  I last saw LTG Rodriguez in December 2008 when he accompanied Secretary Gates on a trip from Afghanistan to Manama to Iraq to Turkey to the United States.  I flew on their airplane and so we got to talk now and then.  I first learned about Rodriguez some years ago in Iraq.  Again, this is a man with great experience and he is respected by all the folks I’ve ever talked with.  Rodriguez runs a tight ship and I believe he definitely is up for the job in Afghanistan.

I was concerned about some of our military leadership some years ago, but now that’s the least of my concerns.  The military leadership is rock solid.

Personally, I didn’t like seeing General McKiernan get publicly relieved.  A quiet disembarkation might have been better.  After all, he is a true American who defended the United States.  To me, McKiernan will be known as a man who did his duty, not as the General who got relieved.

And now we likely will get the chance to see if a McChrystal-Rodriguez team can do in Afghanistan what Petraeus-Odierno did in Iraq.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewat · 12 years ago
    Hmm, this smells like the sort of ham-fistedness that went along with the recent invite/uninvite fiasco surrounding Anthony Zinni.. Perhaps they didn't _mean_ to send signals with this, they just didn't know any better?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lady Liberty · 12 years ago
    How are you not going to have mass carnage of possible innocents, given the way this enemy violates the rules of war and operates against its own to gain personal advantage? I wonder how the Dems feel now with the accusations flying against American warmongers and torturers? Teaching moment? Reality check?

    You let the lawless define your mission, you put no pressure on the Muslim enablers of Hell on earth, you take all the responsibilities for a civilized world onto your big American shoulders and voila le quagmire.

    Iraq was the mujahideen's last stand. It's now Islam's turn to join the free world, not OUR job to join the destroyers of ciivilization on their home turf. So long political fanaticism and tyranny. Go the way of all flesh if you betray its true religious spirit.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley, CDR, · 12 years ago
    I tend to tie Kharzai's visit to this result. Collateral civilian deaths has been a big issue between him and the U.S. Generals who asked for more troops at the outset of Iraq were forced out. They later were proven correct. McKiernan's may be seen as positioning himself for denial of responsibility down the line but may have misjudged the consequences. McKiernan is more conventional and less surgical in targeting. I expect his departure was more the result of a deal between Kharzi and Obama. Not touched on was the recent reports that there aare no Al Qoeda left in Afghanistan. The longer term strategic plans for Afghanistan may not include further ramping up of troop strength. I do not like the public nature of the removal and have somewhat less respect for Gates than Mike but Gates is a quantum leap over Rumsfeld.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Carter · 12 years ago
    General McKiernan's replacement is political. The President can't have a General asking for more troops when he got elected under the guise of immediately pulling troops back home. Having a President make decisions based on his own political safety over that of our country could turn out, heaven forbid, to be disastrous.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rob · 12 years ago
    Best analysis of this critical change that I have read yet.

    Just to repeat, Michael drove 1000 miles around Afghanistan and found friendship for Americans. I have been a tourist there twice and found the same thing. I presume we drove some of the same roads; they are somewhat limited. If we are smart we will turn to winning the peace with a vengence. We deserve it and the Afghans want and deserve it. Our military over there is first rate, but I want to hear more focus on civil society and civil development. Where are those resources?.

    Most of the country is peaceful and drug free, enough. If we pour resources into winning the peace in those areas, the contrast with the areas along the Pakistan border will serve as a lesson. And there is no way the Taliban can retake control of the country.
    When I was there I saw rocks piled everywhere as the first step to building houses. Afghanistan had not had peace for 0 years. Now they had a chance to start rebuilding.
    I also saw and heard about incredible corruption. There was a small bridge that was being rebuilt at the entrance to a village near Baghram; it was getting paid for twice by two different charities. Some smart people have to watch this stuff. To win the peace we have to be very focused. This requires smart, old, tough wise men on our part. Sure sounds like the cops and city managers in the national guard to me. I saw some there and was impressed.
    So we need commitment and smart old tough guys too.
    We have got them, I have seen them, no way this is lost.
    We need to stay the course.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    elHombre · 12 years ago
    Unless it was requested by Petraeus, the firing of McKiernan is all about making Obama look decisive and "new." I suspect McKiernan would have enjoyed a crack at the job with the new contingency of troops. A competent Commander-in-Chief would have been interested in how he performed with something approximating the resources he requested.

    Obama, however, is about politics, not competence.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley, CDR, · 12 years ago
    Makes no sense, Carter. The President IS sending more troops to Afghanistan, much to the chagrin of those of the far left. I believe it is a shoot-look-shoot situation. I think the replacement is strategic on several levels.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ajacksonian · 12 years ago
    I do wonder what Patraeus has up his sleeve for the logistics: 90% goes through Pakistan and Russia isn't being helpful. No one has looked at a Georgia-Azerbaijan-Caspian-Turkmenistan route that I have heard of which is about it on alternatives. We are about taxed out on heavy airlift capability and that means sealift and overland. Keeping Afghanistan supplied requires that... so Gen. Patraeus has got to have *something* for a contingency. I wish I had a better feeling on that... we can't succeed in Afghanistan if Pakistan hits the pot.

    I don't want our troops put out on a limb and then have that cut off.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    joe murray · 12 years ago
    do you know about Gen McChrystal and the cover up in the Tillman death in. i heard he signed of on the false report any truth to that report? any info would be helpful.
    God Bless
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Don Inbody · 12 years ago
    It would have been better to "fire" Gen. McKiernan quietly, but at the level at which he works such a thing is impossible. All one needs do is see that he left the position in less than two years...that alone says he was removed. Better for Gates to say what he did than to have it remain in the quiet where everyone can make up their own (probably worse) story. It is not good for Gen. McKiernan, but it was the civilian leadership not being afraid to fire generals that eventually led to finding good generals for the task at hand. Lincoln did it. Marshall did it. We did not do it enough in Vietnam and earlier in Iraq and we paid for it.

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