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U.S. Military Structure In Afghanistan Looking More Like Iraq’s

To adapt, clumsily, one of the more memorable quips of what used to be called the War on Terror: in Afghanistan, we set up the military command structure that we can, and in Iraq, we set up the military command structure that we must. Except maybe not anymore. (You see that piece of writing right there? Hot fire.)

Two great pieces in the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times report that the Pentagon and Central Command may assign a three-star general underneath the overall commander of the Afghanistan war, Gen. David McKiernan, to coordinate day-to-day operations while McKiernan focuses on the country-wide picture. That’s the way it works in Iraq, where a three-star heads up Multinational Corps-Iraq and reports to Multinational Force-Iraq. Arcane? Sure, but many a military analyst has said over the years that the NATO command structure in Afghanistan is confusing and inefficient. It took until last year for the Defense Department to create U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, a command that integrated the NATO mission with the U.S. mission. (Donald Rumsfeld liked the stovepiping so as not to get the U.S. to perform “peacekeeping” operations. Butterfingers!)

Here’s how an anonymous official explained the thinking to the Times’ Julian Barnes:

“You need a general who is, day-to-day, committed to the fight — an operational commander — and a general who is, day-to-day, committed to the governance,” said a senior Defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal is still under discussion.

That’s an interesting way of putting it. Afghanistan is a war zone, sure, but everyone claims to understand that it’s primarily a political conflict. What’s the role of new ambassador Karl Eikenberry — himself a former Afghanistan military commander — if the three-star is going to be focusing on promoting more competent Afghan governance? Coordinating the two efforts is valuable, as governance and security need to be mutually reinforcing. And it looks as if the State Department and USAID and other civilian agencies don’t have the deployable manpower to support the governance requirements the Afghan government has identified. But how to avoid militarizing the governance effort if it falls under USFOR-A?

The Journal’s Peter Spiegel reports that the man for the job is Army Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez. Rodriguez recently commanded forces in eastern Afghanistan, which is going to be a major theater of the war over the next year.

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