McChrystal’s First Message to His Troops
Small Wars Journal has a copy of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s guidance to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force troops on how the Afghanistan war ought to be conducted. It’s reminiscent of Gens. David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno’s messages to the troops about counterinsurgency and what the missions in Iraq under their commands were. (And probably self-consciously so.) There’s a lot that’s been made about McChrystal’s Joint Special Operations Command background, with its enemy-centric focus, posing a problem for a population-centric counterinsurgency command, but ever since before McChrystal was nominated to command U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the counterinsurgency crowd has loved and embraced him.
The guidance shows why. McChrystal really could not have demonstrated a greater concern for population protection in this document: it’s the first operational message, and it’s repeated and expanded upon throughout. For those who have (reasonable) concerns about McChrystal’s barely explored involvement with torture in his previous job as the head of Joint Special Operations Command, there’s this:
- Ensure Values Underpin our Effort. We must demonstrate thru our words and actions our commitment to fair play, our respect and sensitivity for the cultures and traditions of others, and an understanding that rule of law and humanity don’t end when fighting starts. Both our goals and conduct must be admired.
He doesn’t say the T-word, but the spirit is there, and much more beyond the torture issue, as well. On that issue, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) noted in a little-noticed Senate statement for the record that despite McChrystal’s testimony that he was “uncomfortable” with “enhanced interrogation techniques” and worked to rein them in, he requested that his former commander, Gen. John Abizaid, grant him the latitude to use
a number of these techniques, including “sleep management,” “environmental manipulation,” and “control positions.” The request defined “control positions” as “requiring the detainee to stand, sit, kneel, squat, maintain sitting position with back against the wall, bend over chair, lean with head against wall, lie prone across chairs, stand with arms above head or raised to shoulders, or other normal physical training positions” and requested that “in the most exceptional circumstances, and on approval from [the commander]” interrogators be allowed to “use handcuffs to enforce the detainee’s position.”
It’s unclear to me whether Abizaid granted such approval and, if so, whether McChrystal authorized his troops to use those techniques. I have a request for comment out to USFOR-A and will report back if and when I hear more.
The New York Times reported this line of thinking from McChrystal’s subordinate commanders:
“We are going to bring the hurt to the insurgency and offer them an existential choice,” said another senior military officer.
“Those who are ideologically committed — we don’t expect them to change. They will fight, and they will die,” the officer said. “But for the many for whom ideology is not the motivation, we are going to offer them a serious motivation to stop, to make another choice.”
Distinguishing between those for whom it’s possible to deal with and those for whom it’s necessary to confront and defeat is the beginning of wisdom for military strategy in Afghanistan, and it’s not been much in evidence to date. (Except for, like, McChrystal’s scorned predecessor.) It’s entirely reasonable to wonder if it’s too late at this point. I can’t say I know one way or the other.
This is something to really pay attention to:
“Some of the fiercest fighting we run into is where it’s local,” said one Defense Department official, because those fighters are rooted in the community by tribe or local interests in narcotics, lumber harvesting or smuggling.
That’s a reference to southern Afghanistan. But do they fight for ideology there, or for other reasons?