Gates' Afghanistan Shake-Up: General Switch Reveals Military In-Fighting

It's extremely unusual for a four-star commander of a war zone to get fired in the middle of the conflict. It's why yesterday's developments, with the Obama administration firing Gen. David McKiernan, were so striking.


Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced yesterday that he had requested the resignation of the top American general in Afghanistan, Gen. David D. McKiernan, making a rare decision to remove a wartime commander at a time when the Obama administration has voiced increasing alarm about the country's downward spiral.

Gates, saying he seeks "fresh thinking" and "fresh eyes" on Afghanistan, recommended that President Obama replace McKiernan with a veteran Special Operations commander, Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. His selection marks the continued ascendancy of officers who have pressed for the use of counterinsurgency tactics, in Iraq and Afghanistan, that are markedly different from the Army's traditional doctrine.

"We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership is also needed," Gates said at a hastily convened Pentagon news conference.

Just to be clear, in cases like these, "request the resignation" means "fired."

Under the circumstances, the first question tends to be, "What, exactly, did McKiernan to prompt this unusual move?" But that seems to be the wrong way to look at this. "Gen. McKiernan is a good man," said Jack Keane, a retired Army general who advised the Bush administration on the 2007 troop buildup in Iraq. "But he was the wrong man at the wrong time. What the war needs is a new strategy and a new plan."

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