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When In Doubt, Review Afghanistan Strategy

Nancy Youssef at McClatchy reports that Defense Secretary Bob Gates has ordered incoming Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his deputy, Gen. David Rodriguez, to spend 60 days reviewing war strategy. The task is nothing new for McChrystal, who just finished a different review of war strategy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff earlier this spring, this one about changes to the U.S. and NATO command structure. Youssef points out how this latest review would make five military and Obama administration reviews of Afghanistan strategy this year.

Beyond that, it’s unclear what guidelines McChrystal will use to assess the war’s fortunes, the objective conditions of Afghanistan, the relevant variables and the prospects for success. At his confirmation hearing last week, he said that success will ultimately be measured by “the number of Afghans shielded from violence.” But he also embraced “limited but necessary” air strikes, even as new Pentagon investigations uncover preventable errors that contribute to Afghan civilian casualties. Very few commanders would explicitly renounce a legal warfighting option, but questions remain about whether the anger with which Afghans view the result of the air strikes render them counterproductive. How McChrystal will tell the difference? If it’s metrics he’s after, the Center for a New American Security proposed some last week.

At least one change McChrystal has recommended might be on the table this week. During his hearing, he indicated that he would like to give Rodriguez operational responsibility for the regional commands around Afghanistan, freeing him to see the larger picture of the war. But because the Afghanistan war is a NATO fight, such a change will require the sign-off of the NATO countries that contribute troops. Enter Gates, who leaves tomorrow for Maastrict and Brussels for two days of NATO summitting, where he’ll probably take the temperature of the allies for such a command-structure change.

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