McKiernan the new Petraeus

>> Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The situation in Afghanistan is a complicated one. Not made less by the fact that the democrats view Afghanistan as the good war. Afghanistan has become the democrats war the way Iraq is the Republicans war. In a way this makes sense as Afghanistan provides Dems with a way to demonstrate they are not pacifists or unwilling to fight a war. Afghanistan has been a good tool. As our presence and long term commitment to Iraq has been winding down more focus has shifted to Afghanistan. The picture there is not a pretty one. It reflects Iraq in many ways and this has led to a focus on the man in charge just as iraq became a focus on the man in charge. That man is David D. McKiernan and he is the new Petraeus.

Some background on Gen. McKiernan,

McKiernan graduated from The College of William & Mary in 1972 where he received an ROTC commission; McKiernan then entered the Army. He holds an MPA from Shippensburg University and an honorary doctorate in Public Service from his alma mater, the College of William and Mary.

McKiernan gained experience in the Balkans as a staff officer in the 1990s. In July 1996, General McKiernan joined the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC), serving as the Deputy Chief of Staff G-2/G-3 forward deployed in both Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rheindahlen (Mönchengladbach), Germany. From August 1998 until September 1999, he served as Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, Headquarters, United States Army, Europe and Seventh Army during a period of simultaneous operations in Bosnia, Albania, and Kosovo.

In 2001, he was assigned as G-3 (Operations), Headquarters, Department of the Army. Following that posting, in September 2002, General McKiernan assumed command of the Third U.S. Army and U.S. Army Forces Central Command (ARCENT), and became the Coalition Forces Land Component Commander for U.S. Central Command in preparation for Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. In March 2003, General McKiernan led all coalition and U.S. conventional ground forces that attacked Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

Following his assignment as ground forces commander, McKiernan was assigned as Deputy Commanding General/Chief of Staff for United States Army Forces Command, the largest major command in the United States Army which is responsible for the readiness and deployment of Army forces based in the U.S. He assumed command of 7th Army/U.S. Army Europe. He assumed command of ISAF on June 3, 2008 and assumed command of both ISAF and USFOR-A on October 6, 2008.

McKiernan also appears to have had an interesting role in the debate over prewar troop levels and the importance of the paramilitary forces employed by saddam. McKiernan plays an important if understated role in the invasion and conquest of Iraq. According to a NYT article from 2006

Even before the war, Mr. Rumsfeld saw the deployment of United States forces more in terms of what was needed to win the war than to secure the peace.

With the tide in the United States' favor, he began to raise the issue of canceling the deployment of the First Cavalry Division — some 16,000 soldiers. General Franks eventually went along. Though the general insisted he was not pressured to agree, he later acknowledged that the defense secretary had put the issue on the table. "Don Rumsfeld did in fact make the decision to off-ramp the First Cavalry Division," General Franks said in an earlier interview with The New York Times.

General McKiernan, the senior United States general in Iraq at the time, was not happy about the decision but did not protest.
General McKiernan concluded that the United States faced two "centers of gravity": the Republican Guard, concentrated near Baghdad, and the paramilitary Fedayeen. He decided to suspend the march to the capital for several days while continuing airstrikes and engaging the Fedayeen. Only then, he figured, would conditions be right for the final assault into Baghdad to remove Mr. Hussein from power. To provide more support, General McKiernan freed up his only reserve, troops from the 82nd Airborne Division.

With the limited information i found on McKiernon he certainly seems to be a competent commander and strategist. He recognized the need to control the paramilitary forces that eventually evolved into the insurgency. He was cautious and considerate in his approach to the war making sure he was accounting for those paramilitary forces and not rushing simply to depose Saddam.

Fast forward to today when the attention of the American public, driven in part by obama, is looking at the situation in Afghanistan and not finding it particularly pretty. The question has now become what to do about it. The Republicans have tried to simply transfer their iraq war terminology and say it will work in Iraq. However, they have no credibility after the disaster that they made Iraq. The Republican strategy became to use the military figure in command of the area as the guiding light. This is how Petraeus became the commander in chief. According to GOP rhetoric anything he says is absolutely true and the right idea. After all he is the Petraeus.

To apply their thought process in its application to Afghanistan Barack Obama and Joe Biden have tried to use McKiernan and his comments to bolster their argument about the Afghanistan. The dynamic that takes shape is one where the field commander is making all the decisions and the civilians back home are just giving them whatever they need. I cant say whether this makes things more or less effective. I do know that it is somewhat of an abdication of civilian control of the military.

The GOP of course does not particularly care about what the good general actually said. They will still try to use him as a prop, a legitimizing authority for their rhetoric. Example, Sarah Palin in the debate who was in such a hurry to show she could use the surge rhetoric in regards to Afghanistan she called McKiernan, McClellan. McKiernan of course is talking about something completely different than what Palin claimed,

"Afghanistan is not Iraq," said Gen. David D. McKiernan, who led ground forces during the 2003 Iraq invasion and took over four months ago as head of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan.

Speaking in Washington yesterday, McKiernan described Afghanistan as "a far more complex environment than I ever found in Iraq." The country's mountainous terrain, rural population, poverty, illiteracy, 400 major tribal networks and history of civil war all make for unique challenges, he said.

"The word I don't use for Afghanistan is 'surge,' " McKiernan stressed, saying that what is required is a "sustained commitment" to a counterinsurgency effort that could last many years and would ultimately require a political, not military, solution.

This is similar in many respects to what John McCain has done with Petraeus. McCain likes to attack Obama on the issue of preconditions yet Petraeus is on a different path,

Citing his Iraq experience, Petraeus said, “You have to talk to enemies.” He added that it was necessary to have a particular goal for discussion and to perform advance work to understand the motivations of his interlocutors.

The military commander is only omniscient when he validates McCain's views. To a limited extent this seems to be true of Obama.

I have had trouble sorting out the Obama Afghanistan plan in relation to conditions on the ground. The plan is available here in pdf and again slightly different here. Here is the Plan Obama has for Aghanistan,

Redeploy American Troops to Afghanistan. Barack Obama will deploy at least an additional two brigades (7,000 personnel) of rested, trained American troops to Afghanistan to reinforce our counter-terrorism operations and support NATO’s efforts to fight the Taliban.

Strengthen NATO’s Hand in Afghanistan: NATO currently has about 41,000 troops in Afghanistan. However, the force is short-staffed and some countries contributing forces are imposing restrictions on where their troops can operate, tying the hands of commanders on the ground. As president, Obama will work with European allies to end these burdensome restrictions and strengthen NATO as a fighting force.

Train and Equip the Afghan Army and Police: Barack Obama will strengthen the training and equipping of the Afghan army and police and increase Afghan participation in U.S. and NATO missions, so that there is more of an Afghan face on security.

Increase Non-Military Aid to Afghanistan by $1 billion: To prevent the country’s backsliding into chaos, Barack Obama would increase U.S. non-military aid to Afghanistan to $3 billion. This aid would fund reconstruction, police and army training, embassy operations, and local projects including efforts to impact the lives of ordinary Afghans and to give farmers alternatives to growing opium poppies. The aid would also be tied to better performance by the Afghan national government, including anti-corruption initiatives and efforts to extend the rule of law across the country.

Strike Al Qaeda: Last summer, Barack Obama was criticized for challenging conventional thinking and saying that as president, if he had actionable intelligence about the whereabouts of al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan--and the Pakistanis cannot or will not act--then he will use highly targeted force to do so. At the time, Senator Clinton said Obama’s statement was a “very big mistake.” Over the last few months, the wisdom behind Clinton’s assertion was called into question as the Central Intelligence Agency successfully took out senior al Qaeda leader Abu Laith al Libi, in North Waziristan, Pakistan, in January.

Obama later updated that last part to edit out Sen Clinton and to just talk about Musharraf, and now i believe it is simply if the Pakistan government refuses to act.

In any event i would really like to have more detailed planning about what Obama intends to do in Afghanistan. McKiernan has said that what is required is a "sustained commitment". Obama certainly seems to be on the right track discussing increased aid. His reasoning for sending troops also seems to be fine. He wants more troops so that we have better capability to direct air strikes thus lessening the number of innocent people we kill with missed strikes. More troops for a surge like security crackdown seem to be the last thing needed. Not to mention that the terrain of afghanistan is terrible and that the tribes who live there are much more adept at fighting on it than we will be as juan cole points out,
The major critique I have is that Obama keeps talking about intensifying the search and destroy missions being carried out by US troops in the Pushtun areas of southern Afghanistan. As we should have learned from Vietnam, search and destroy missions only alienate the local population and drive it into the arms of the insurgency.
Afghan tribes are fractious. They feud. Their territory is vast and rugged, and they know it like the back of their hands. Afghans are Jeffersonians in the sense that they want a light touch from the central government, and heavy handedness drives them into rebellion. Stand up Karzai's army and air force and give him some billions to bribe the tribal chiefs, and let him apply carrot and stick himself. We need to get out of there.

The air strikes make it especially tough to involve the american military in any efforts to rebuild the country. McKiernon is on record as noting the solution must come from the afghan government. This is a government that has serious credibility issues. Ending the corruption and establishing a political system that allows for local level input would appear to be a required condition for aid and Obama has mentioned that.

McKiernon has become the front man for the war in Afghanistan. He occupies the position in that war that Petraeus occupied for Iraq. Look to see his name become well known and not just because of Palin's poor reference. Obama has made winning in Afghanistan one of his central themes along with catching bin laden and now fixing the economy. The Afghanistan of 2008 is vastly different and in many ways more hostile than that of 2002. Dont be surprised if we find ourselves in a similar situation as we are in Iraq complete with highly decorated military officer as the media focus.


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