Who Is Stanley McChrystal?

by Joshua Foust on 5/19/2009 · 2 comments

The other week, during the shock/surprise appointment of Gen. Stanley McChrystal to Afghanistan, I noted his unexplained involvement in two major scandals:

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.

Both of these matter, as they remain dark marks marring an otherwise glowing reputation from insiders. It highlights one major problem with the boys at JSOC: they have terrible PR management. Unfortunately, as the constant (and mostly false) accusations of civilian casualties reach a fever pitch in Afghanistan, you must have an agile media capability—and from what we see here, McChrystal has something of a tin ear. (I am ignoring his proficiency at hunting and killing baddies, which, near as I can tell, is unquestioned even by detractors.)

That’s partly what makes this profile in Esquire so interesting. It not only makes many of the same points (we know almost nothing about McChrystal, and what we know is VERY mixed), but adds several more of great interest. Most interesting to me is that McChrystal was in command during the troop incursions into the FATA that created a lot of trouble and contributed little value in the public’s eye.

Bus Esquire also has a far less balanced, much more endorse-y portrait of McChrystal by the reporter who uncovered the allegations of abuse at Camp Nama and noted McChrystal was at their heart.

Today it seems obvious that it’s wiser to follow the rules and avoid slippage, especially given the shameful partisanship that has led so many Republicans to defend waterboarding. Without a clear moral line, these folks would bring back the Inquisition just to avoid saying they were wrong.

But I’m not eager to judge soldiers on the battlefield who pushed the line to save their lives. I’m certainly not going to call them torturers for violating the Geneva Convention with a 14-hour interrogation. And, like Garlasco, I would be very cautious judging someone like McChrystal, a soldier my president has chosen to put his confidence in, a man who could end up saving tens of thousands of lives.

Which makes for an interesting counterpoint to the potential controversy. I still am not opposed to his appointment per se, but McChrystal does need to break out of his hyper-secretive JSOC mode if he’s going to run the war effectively. McKiernan had taken some halting, and much appreciated steps toward at least a reasonable amount of transparency. It is a process that runs counter to the entire JSOC mission. If McChrystal can operate as an open, available, and trust-building commander—something he seems to have done with his troops, if not with the public at large—then he could easily be a great commander. It just requires answering a few questions and putting some niggling fears to rest.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 2 comments }

Vengeance7 May 19, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Good Morning Joshua

I’ve got no problem with Gen McChrystal signing the posthumous silver star for Cpl Tillman, all the while pleading for honesty among his fellow brass concerning the truth of that tragic friendly fire incident but I have a somewhat twisted logic and a most heavily bias regarding these things.

I believe the actions of Ranger Tillman as I know them, during this engagement show a certain courage and selfless disregard for himself, putting his units safety above his own as he moved forward thinking he was to engage the enemy; THE Ranger way.

Whether or not that is Silver Star material is debatable in a theater where Majors stationed their entire tour at Camp Julian who never left the FOB are awarded the Bronze Star for organizing 82 LOG-PACs. I never saw the wording of the award but imagine that it would be problematic given under the circumstances.

I tend to focus more on the outcome, or lack of it concerning associated comms that seemed to have contributed greatly and the fact that we rely on host nationals and broken down trucks for military transport; not exactly the red ball express that.

The thing I find intriguing about President Obama’s appointment of a SOCOM operator, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, is the fact that he is being tasked to work for his former command, SOCOM, CENTCOM and EUCOM, but it seems that it’s being reported that “He’s the HMFIC Afghanistan,working for a trusted friend Gen Pertraeus”. Am I missing something? Has the war by committee thing changed here?

I’m not convinced we need an Eisenhower, able to make nice with many different entities and our allies as we need a Grant who does his own thing. Ok, the analogy is not rock solid but if LT Gen McChrystal is to be able to command, or better yet, implement a plan, he needs to have only one direct line up.

I do not discount the sacrifices made by our allies, especially the British Canadian and Australians down south, but we need to get it together and quit the schizoid war policy for a bit. That doesn’t seem to be happening, it only seems to be spiraling further.

The advisor mission is being billeted by EMs with the stated goal of a direct “partnership” with a sister US unit. I’ve seen my “Big sister” in regards when they partner with the host nationals, everything from military institutionalized impatience that leads to acrimony because ignorance/ laziness to setting a US perimeter inside the host nationals in a manner that has the US inner perimeter laying the crew served right on the outer host national position. I found this last one a bit annoying but my reasoned arguments held no sway with “Big sisters” OIC.

I saw a bit, a ray of hope , in some blurb about LT General McChrystal’s ongoing operation of rotating a group of 400 NCOs and officers out of theater back to a position or duty that involved them training and helping set policy awaiting their rotation back into a specific area of theater that they have operated; keeping a certain ownership. I was unable to find out much about this program though.

Vengeance7 out

David M May 20, 2009 at 12:25 pm

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/20/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

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