WASHINGTON (AP) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates replaced the
commander of the Afghanistan war on Monday, saying the Obama
administration needs "fresh thinking" to turn around the war against a resurgent Taliban.
Gen. David McKiernan, less than a year in the job, will be replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Both are Army officers, but McChrystal brings to the battle his experience as a commander of special forces, compared to McKiernan's more conventional background.
"Today we have a new policy set by our new president. We have a
new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that
new military leadership also is needed," Gates said at a press
The move comes as more than 21,000 additional U.S. forces begin to arrive in Afghanistan, dispatched by Obama to confront the Taliban more forcefully this spring and summer. Despite seven years of effort, Afghanistan remains a battleground with an unstable government, flourishing opium trade, and suicide attacks by supporters of al-Qaida.
The move also comes a week after an unknown number of Afghan civilians were killed during a battle between militants and U.S. forces.
Afghan officials say up to 147 people may have died in the battle in Farah, though the U.S. says that number is exaggerated.
The U.S. on Saturday blamed Taliban militants for causing the deaths by using villagers as human shields in the hopes they would be killed. A preliminary U.S. report did not say how many people died in the battle.
Gates said McChrystal, now a senior administrator with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would be nominated for the top job and that Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez would become McChrystal's deputy. He urged the Senate to confirm the two quickly.
Obama approved 17,000 additional combat forces for Afghanistan this year, plus 4,000 trainers and other noncombat troops. By year's end, the United States will have more than 68,000 troops in the sprawling country - about double the total at the end of Bush's presidency but still far fewer than the approximately 130,000 still in Iraq.
McKiernan and other U.S. commanders have said resources they need in Afghanistan are tied up in Iraq.
Asked if McKiernan's resignation ends his military career, Gates said, "Probably."
Gates visited Afghanistan last week to see firsthand what preparations and plans are under way to set the president's counterinsurgency strategy in motion.
"As I have said many times before, very few of these problems can be solved by military means alone," Gates said Monday. "And yet, from the military perspective, we can and must do better."
He noted that the Afghan campaign has long been shortchanged of the people and money needed in favor of the Bush administration's focus since 2003 on the Iraq war.
"But I believe, resources or no, that our mission there requires new thinking and new approaches from our military leaders," he said. "Today we have a new policy set by our new president. We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed."
In June 2006 McChrystal was congratulated by then-President Bush for his role in the operation that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. As head of the special operations command, his forces included the Army's clandestine counterterrorism unit, Delta Force.
McChrystal also came under fire for his role in the furor surrounding the friendly fire shooting of Army Ranger Pat Tillman - a former NFL star - in Afghanistan. An investigation at the time found that he was "accountable for the inaccurate and misleading assertions" contained in papers recommending that Tillman get a Silver Star award.
McChrystal acknowledged he had suspected several days before approving the Silver Star citation that Tillman may have died by fratricide, rather than enemy fire. He sent a memo to military leaders warning them of that, even as they were approving Tillman's Silver Star. He told investigators that he believed Tillman deserved the award.
The Army overruled a Pentagon recommendation that he be held accountable for his actions.