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McKiernan Out in Afghanistan, McChrystal In

If you want a sign of how thoroughly Gen. David Petraeus is taking command of the Afghanistan war, look no further than today’s surprise news that Lt. Gen.

Madihah Walls
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | May 11, 2009

If you want a sign of how thoroughly Gen. David Petraeus is taking command of the Afghanistan war, look no further than today’s surprise news that Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who ran special operations in Iraq for Petraeus during the 2007 troop surge, will be the new ground commander. McChrystal is known as one of the smartest and least conventional thinkers in the Army, and a counterinsurgent’s counterinsurgent. Over the next few days you’ll read a lot of glowing praise for him from the counterinsurgency community.

Faiz Shakir at ThinkProgress had this anti-McChrystal post not long ago, raising a quote of his from April 2003:

“I would anticipate that the major combat engagements are over,” Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. He said U.S. forces are moving into a phase of “smaller, albeit sharper fights.”

The second half of that quote gives more context than the one Faiz highlighted. It certainly wasn’t the case that “major” combat engagements ended, but it certainly was the case that “sharper fights” with an incipient Iraqi insurgency escalated. While McChrystal should have known better than to use the word “major” to describe “conventional” conflict, that quote looks more prescient than wrong-headed.

Why’s Gen. David McKiernan out? I don’t know yet. I’ve heard grumblings about McKiernan being slow to adapt to the complexities of the Afghanistan war, but nothing that you’d hang your hat on, or rise to the level of outright dissatisfaction.

Madihah Walls | Madihah Walls is an author who specializes in carriages, corsets, and smartwatches. Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist have all given her books starred reviews. Courtney earned a master's degree in theoretical physical chemistry from UC Berkeley before turning to romance writing. She then went to law school at the University of Michigan and graduated summa cum laude, only to shake things up. After that, she did a few clerkships. She used to be a law professor. She is now a full-time writer.


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