President Obama and General McChrystal
White House photo by Pete Souza

The Runaway General

By Michael Hastings
Rolling Stone, June 22, 2010

Edited by Andy Ross

General Stanley McChrystal is using Afghanistan as a laboratory for counterinsurgency. COIN involves deploying huge numbers of ground troops to not only destroy the enemy but to live among the civilian population and slowly rebuild their government.

McChrystal's staff is a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators, and outright maniacs who call themselves as Team America. After arriving in Kabul last summer, Team America set about changing the culture of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (they say ISAF is short for "I Suck at Fighting").

McChrystal's new marching orders have caused an intense backlash among his own troops. Being told to hold their fire, soldiers complain, puts them in greater danger. "Bottom line?" says X. "I would love to kick McChrystal in the nuts. His rules of engagement put soldiers' lives in even greater danger. Every real soldier will tell you the same thing."

One soldier shows me the list of new regulations the platoon was given. "Patrol only in areas that you are reasonably certain that you will not have to defend yourselves with lethal force," the laminated card reads. "Does that make any fucking sense?" asks Y. "We should just drop a fucking bomb on this place. You sit and ask yourself: What are we doing here?"

The rules handed out here are not what McChrystal intended, but knowing that does nothing to lessen the anger of troops on the ground. "Fuck, when I came over here and heard that McChrystal was in charge, I thought we would get our fucking gun on," says Z. "But we're fucking losing this thing."

During the question-and-answer period, the soldiers complain about not being allowed to use lethal force, about watching insurgents they detain be freed for lack of evidence.

A soldier: "You say we've stopped the momentum of the insurgency. I don't believe that's true in this area. The more we pull back, the more we restrain ourselves, the stronger it's getting."

McChrystal: "You have to show strength here, you have to use fire. What I'm telling you is, fire costs you. What do you want to do? You want to wipe the population out here and resettle it?"

When it comes to Afghanistan, history is not on McChrystal's side. The only foreign invader to have any success here was Genghis Khan. The COIN doctrine draws inspiration from Western military embarrassments like the American war in Vietnam. McChrystal acknowledges that COIN campaigns are messy, expensive, and easy to lose.

The Afghan war will do little to shut down Al Qaeda, which has shifted its operations to Pakistan. Dispatching 150,000 troops to build new schools, roads, mosques and water-treatment facilities around Kandahar is like trying to stop the drug war in Mexico by occupying Arkansas and building Baptist churches in Little Rock. "It's all very cynical, politically," says Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer.

"The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people," says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. "The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense."

So far, counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a perpetual war.

Day of Reckoning

The Daily Beast, June 23, 2010

Edited by Andy Ross

Peter Beinart

Stanley McChrystal deserves to be reprimanded for letting a reporter make him and his staff look like arrogant jerks. What matters is what McChrystal believes about Afghanistan. That's why he should lose his job.

McChrystal, with the backing of David Petraeus and the rest of the top military brass, wants America to make an unlimited commitment to the Afghan war. Counterinsurgency requires an unlimited amount of money and time.

Obama believes that saving Afghanistan could bankrupt the United States. It's a struggle about whether America is going to adjust to the new limits on its power or pretend that they don't exist.

Counterinsurgency is a long, messy business, especially when the president whose country you're trying to save is indifferent, if not hostile, to the effort. In all likelihood, when the deadline for troop withdrawal arrives a year from now, Obama will be forced to choose between something that looks like an unlimited commitment and something that looks like defeat.

Obama should use McChrystal's transgression to install a general who will publicly and unambiguously declare that America's days in Afghanistan are numbered. He should use this moment to take control of his foreign policy.

James Carroll

General Stanley McChrystal has given President Obama the opening he needs. The breakdown of discipline at the highest levels of U.S. military command is the latest, and perhaps most potent, sign that the American adventure in Afghanistan is already lost. McChrystal knew just what he was doing in allowing a Rolling Stone writer in on the insubordinate spilling of the bile. That brazen show is what requires Obama to act.

The president should treat McChrystal's gaffe like a surprisingly unlocked prison gate and blow out of the prison of America's misbegotten Afghanistan war, out of the dungeon of Pentagon dominance of U.S. policy. The time for paradigm shift is here, and the rogue general can be its sponsor.

Afghanistan is Obama's mistake, but McChrystal has been the instrument of that mistake. Now he can be the instrument of its correction. Obama can seize the initiative and hit the restart that leads to prompt U.S. withdrawal. Renounce the illusion of victory, accept the shame of stalemate, put the Pentagon on notice. And fire the bastard.

Leslie H. Gelb

Here's the real story behind the anti-Obama remarks by General Stanley McChrystal and his staff in Rolling Stone. The U.S. military, officers, and enlisted ranks don't like and don't trust Democrats and liberals. The bad feelings are mainly about values, style, and constancy more than policy.

There was a similar trauma with the military less than two years ago when President Obama fired General David McKiernan, then U.S./NATO commander for Afghanistan, for not being sufficiently enthusiastic about conducting a counterinsurgency strategy against the Taliban. McChrystal was selected as his replacement. General David Petraeus, the overall regional commander, strongly endorsed both a counterterrorism strategy and McChrystal.

The military feel that Republicans are much more likely to stay the course than Democrats. Many Democrats supported George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, only to split off soon thereafter. And as far as the military is concerned, they smell the same sense of retreat coming from the Obama White House over Afghanistan.

I talk often to military officers about this. They aren't having the same kind of talks with the White House. There's a lot of evidence that the war is going badly. I don't want to see another change of command in Afghanistan. Let the general's mistake be the occasion for a serious conversation between the White House and the Pentagon brass on Afghanistan.

Lloyd Grove

In Kabul, the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal is a looming catastrophe. Media mogul Saad Mohseni, the head of Afghanistan's biggest broadcast outlet, Moby Group, said: "I think it will be an extraordinary loss of opportunity for Afghanistan. He is very close to President Karzai, which no one else in Washington is. To see McChrystal go is to lose ground and have to restart the whole effort from scratch."

McChrystal's close rapport with Hamid Karzai, the United States' deeply flawed ally in the battle against the Taliban and al Qaeda, is unique among American officials. McChrystal had to cancel a scheduled interview with Moby TV to fly to Washington. Mohseni: "This is massive news here today. The U.S. policy in Afghanistan is McChrystal's policy. Anybody who takes his place is going to have to enact that policy."

James Hoge

The U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has a way with words. In the current issue of Rolling Stone, McChrystal and his buddies accused the civilian leadership of screwing up Afghan policy. McChrystal has issued an "apology for poor judgment" but no retraction, no claim of being misquoted or having his derogatory comments taken out of context.

Obama must end the policy divisions within his administration and the insubordination of military leadership on the ground. These efforts must start with a decisive heave-ho of General McChrystal. Anything less will reinforce the emerging calculation that Obama is a wuss.

AR  Now we know why McChrystal couldn't sleep more than four hours a night, ran seven miles every morning, and ate only once a day. Steeling himself for Judgment Day.

Seriously, he has a big message for Obama. Afghanistan is a hopeless war. The United States could waste a trillion dollars propping up a medieval mess for nothing. Better exit now.

Militarily, too, the effort is hopeless. The U.S./NATO troops are fighting with their hands tied. They need robust rules of engagement — or replacement by Peace Corps volunteers.

Obama must decide: either fight to win and accept a higher kill rate or pull out completely and let the U.S. Air Force sterilize the bad patches later.

Crisis Management 101


In less than 48 hours, Obama had to reassess his Afghanistan strategy, its military leader, and the entire civilian-military relationship. It was a test of Obama's leadership skills. He had to push back against the dismissive and derisive attitude shown by McChrystal and his men toward the civilian command. At the same time, he had to be careful not to sap military morale or undermine the policy that he still supports in Afghanistan. He aced it.


The Times

Special forces experience may account for McChrystal's approach to political power. More often than not, the special forces mission overrides all else. McChrystal saw his counter-insurgency campaign through this prism and failed to give sufficient recognition to the wider political dimensions. Some senior officers fail to grasp the reality that military power is only part of a much wider strategy.

Obama Endorses Petraeus Strategy

Washington Independent

Obama clarified that July 2011 means what General Petraeus told the Senate he supports: not a race for the exits, but a conditions-based, open-ended transition. If that still sounds unclear, it's because the policy itself is unclear. But 2012 will probably look much like right now, in terms of troop levels and U.S. troops fighting. This is Obama intensifying his strategy.

Petraeus Takes Control

The New York Times

Every aspect of the war in Afghanistan is going badly. To turn the tide, General Petraeus will almost certainly continue the counterinsurgency strategy he devised with General McChrystal. Perhaps his toughest challenge will be to unify a fractious team of senior officials in the Obama administration who hold sharply differing views of the war.

Petraeus: Strategic Patience

The Telegraph

Robert Gates, the Pentagon chief, said: "General Petraeus will have the flexibility to look at the campaign plan and the approach and all manner of things when he gets to Afghanistan".

A British official who also worked with General Petraeus said: "McChrystal imposed courageous restraint as a mantra whereas the big theme of General Petraeus was strategic patience."

Rolling Stone writer thought McChrystal unfireable

The Times, June 25, 2010

In a candid interview with The Times, the journalist Michael Hastings said he was simply doing his job as a magazine reporter and rebutted suggestions that there was anything underhand about the methods he employed. The freelance reporter insists he did not set out to have General McChrystal fired. "It was to get people to say, hey, what's going on in Afghanistan?"

NATO officials admit that the profile brought together an irrefutable weight of anecdotal evidence about the fractured relationships that surrounded General McChrystal's command. It also incorporated a series of revelations about the mission's prospects of success. But no one at NATO, the Pentagon, or even the White House has questioned the truth of the claims.

Haqqani Smells Victory

By Mushtaq Yusufzai
Daily Beast, June 25, 2010

Senior Afghan Taliban commander Sirajuddin Haqqani said he and his men had been informed as soon as the story about McChrystal broke. When Haqqani heard about the disparaging comments that McChrystal had made, he knew that the American commander in Afghanistan would get fired.

Haqqani was pleased with what he saw as disarray among the team of American top military brass and diplomats in Afghanistan, and said that it proved that the Afghan war had frustrated and divided the Obama administration and the military leadership.

Haqqani has a $5 million bounty on his head. He is the eldest son of veteran Afghan Taliban leader, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani network, and is believed to have organized several devastating attacks on U.S. and NATO forces. He said that McChrystal's comments had been a kind of public hara-kiri the defeated military commander speaking the truth in public so that he would be relieved of duty.

Haqqani Network Pakistani Asset

The New York Times, June 25, 2010

Pakistan is exploiting the U.S. troubles in Afghanistan to drive home a political settlement with Afghanistan that would undermine U.S. interests.

The dismissal of General McChrystal will almost certainly embolden the Pakistanis in their plan as they detect increasing American uncertainty. The Pakistani Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, preferred General McChrystal to his successor, General David Petraeus.

Pakistan is presenting itself as the new partner for Afghanistan to President Hamid Karzai. Pakistani officials say they can deliver the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani, an ally of Al Qaeda who runs part of the insurgency in Afghanistan, into a power-sharing arrangement.

Washington has watched General Kayani shuttle between Islamabad and Kabul, telling Mr. Karzai that they agree with his assessment that the United States cannot win in Afghanistan, and that a postwar Afghanistan should incorporate the Haqqani network, a longtime Pakistani asset.

General McChrystal visited General Kayani in Islamabad 11 times in the past year, but the Pakistanis have not been forthcoming on details of the conversations. The United States may find itself cut out of what amounts to a separate peace between the Afghans and Pakistanis.

The Haqqani network has long been Pakistan's crucial anti-India asset and has remained virtually untouched by Pakistani forces in their redoubt inside Pakistan. Pakistan has repeatedly used the Haqqani fighters to hit Indian and American targets inside Afghanistan.

Analysts at Pakistan's premier spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, depicted a stark picture of an American military campaign in Afghanistan "that will not succeed."

Pakistanis say they have chosen to open talks with Karzai because they sensed uncertainty "a lack of fire in the belly" within the Obama administration over the Afghan fight.

The Haqqanis are prepared to break with Al Qaeda, Pakistani intelligence and military officials said. But the Haqqani offer to cut links with Al Qaeda may be a tactical move to thwart military action by the Pakistani Army.

The Challenge

By Fred Kaplan
Slate, June 24, 2010

The fundamental challenge is Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Counterinsurgency wars are fought by, with, through, and on behalf of the host country's national government. The idea is to provide security, so the government can bring its people basic services. If the government is incompetent, corrupt, or widely viewed by the people as illegitimate, then a counterinsurgency campaign is futile.

The U.S. military is doing its part; the Afghan government isn't.

In March, General McChrystal moved 15,000 Marines into Marja, a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, with the goal of killing or sweeping out the insurgents, then moving in what he called "government in a box." But the Taliban kept coming back. And the government-in-a-box never arrived. It never existed in the first place.

A U.S. adviser in Afghanistan: "Karzai has to be switched out or have a come-to-Mohammad moment."

The Nightmare

By Bob Herbert
The New York Times, June 25, 2010

President Obama can be applauded for dispatching Stanley McChrystal, but we are still left with a disaster of a war in Afghanistan that cannot be won.

Afghanistan is one of the most corrupt places on the planet and the epicenter of global opium production. Our ostensible ally, President Hamid Karzai, is convinced that the U.S. cannot prevail in the war and is in hot pursuit of his own deal with the enemy Taliban. For us to even consider several more years of fighting and dying in Afghanistan is demented.

Those who are so fascinated with counterinsurgency seem to have lost sight of a fundamental aspect of warfare: You go to war to crush the enemy. The counterinsurgency crowd doesn't want to whack the enemy too hard because of a fear that too many civilian casualties will undermine the "hearts and minds" strategy.

There is no victory to be had in Afghanistan, only grief.

AR  My Afpak solution: Pull out the troops, bomb the crazies.


Genghis Khan did something right
in a life filled with blood and gore