The Pentagon just announced the surprise replacement of General David McKiernan with Lt. General Stanley A. McChrystal, who commanded JSOC from 2003-2008. The replacement, which comes eleven months into a typically 24-month tour for McKiernan, is very sudden, and potentially indicative of a serious lack of confidence in McKiernan’s abilities by the Obama administration.
LTG McChrystal received much praise for his command of the Joint Special Operations Command, which was credited with the capture of Saddam Hussein in December of 2003, and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006. As such, he carried a great deal of clout for his methods in prosecuting what many saw as the somewhat scattered successes of pre-Surge Iraq. Bob Woodward also credits JSOC under McChrystal’s command with lowering violence before and during the Surge.
General McChrsytal carries with him a dark side as well. One unit under his command, the now-notorious Task Force 6-26, which was assigned to find HVTs, or High Value Targets in Iraq, is credited with the ultimate death of Zarqawi. The problem is, along the way they faced accusations of running a secret camp that tortured prisoners, and they were implicated in at least two detainee deaths during torture sessions. Their camp, called Camp Nama, became something of a lightning rod after a “computer malfunction” destroyed upwards of 70% of their records and an investigation into their conduct stalled out.
More relevant to Afghanistan is GEN McChrystal’s involvement in the shameful coverup of Pat Tillman’s friendly-fire death. While he was named among the list of high-ranking military personnel believed to have covered up the circumstances of Tillman’s death, GEN McChrystal was “spared because he had apparently drafted a memo urging other officials to stop spreading the lie that Tillman died fighting the Taliban. He drafted that memo, however, after signing the award for Tillman’s posthumously-awarded Silver Star, the commendation for which claims, in part, that he was leading the charge against a Taliban assault. GEN McChrystal has never clarified why he signed an award for Tillman dying under enemy fire right before begging his colleagues and superiors to stop lying about Tillman dying under enemy fire.
In either case, GEN McChrystal’s appointment is a jarring shift for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, which are currently transitioning commands between the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. It is unclear what having a Special Operations commander in charge will do the overall country strategy, just as it is unclear what two major changes of commands in a short period of time will do to the current units who are deployed there. As more information becomes available about this, we’ll post updates.