Top US Commander in Afghanistan Fired

On Monday, Gen. David McKiernan, the top US commander in Afghanistan, was replaced by Gen. Stanley McChrystal.  McKiernan, who was essentially fired from his job, was the first American general to be prematurely relieved from command in a theater of combat since Gen. Douglas MacArthur was ousted during the Korean War.  The dismissal will likely end McKiernan’s career. 

Unlike McKiernan, a career armor officer, McChyrstal has significant unconventional warfare experience.  He is a former Green Beret and was the head of the Joint Special Operations Command.

McKiernan was replaced because his approach to counterinsurgency operations was considered too conventional in contrast to that of McChrystal.

At a press conference on Monday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said “our mission [in Afghanistan] requires new thinking and new approaches by our military leaders.”

Gen. David Patreaus, head of Central Command which oversees US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is believed to have played a role in the personnel change.  Patreaus has distinguished himself as a counterinsurgency expert and a new model Army officer, and he reportedly disagreed with the way McKiernan was managing the situation in Afghanistan.

The replacement of McKiernan by McChrystal represents a greater emphasis on unconventional warfare operations and capabilities in the Defense Department under Gates’ leadership.  The most recent Pentagon budget proposal shifted funds from conventional weapons systems towards counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism programs.  In addition, officers with unconventional warfare experience, such as Patreus and McChrystal, have been promoted to high command positions at the expense of those with conventional warfare backgrounds.  The recent changes could have a major impact on the US military for decades to come.


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