Stan McChrystal: America’s New Commander in Afghanistan

Stan McChrystal: Americas New Commander in Afghanistan

With violence and anti-American sentiment on the rise, it’s plain to see that military operations in Afghanistan are not going well. But if Defense Secretary Robert Gates is right, three-star Army Lieut. General Stan McChrystal is just the guy to turn things around. On May 11, Gates announced plans to install the former Green Beret as the top U.S. and NATO commander for the troubled nation. Some analysts hailed the surprising overhaul as proof that the U.S. is rethinking its conventional approach to combat, especially given McChrystal’s background as commander of the military’s clandestine special operations in Iraq.

“Nothing went wrong and there was nothing specific,” Gates said of asking General David McKiernan, the outgoing commander, to step down just 11 months into a two-year post. “The focus here is simply on getting fresh thinking, fresh eyes on the problem.” But McChrystal’s role in the friendly-fire death of former NFL star Pat Tillman — as well as prisoner abuses allegedly committed on his watch at Baghdad’s Camp Nama — mean his Senate confirmation might not go as smoothly as Gates hopes.

Fast Facts:

• Graduated from West Point in 1976 and began training at the Special Forces School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, two years later.

• Moved to South Korea in 1981 to work for the U.N. Command Support Group.

• During the Persian Gulf War, served as an Army briefer and commanded the 75th Ranger Regiment in Saudi Arabia.

• In 2001, was appointed chief of staff of military operations in Afghanistan. Two years later, he was selected to deliver nationally televised Pentagon briefings about military operations in Iraq.

• Completed yearlong fellowships at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1998 and in 2000 at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, where he reportedly ran 12 miles every day from his Brooklyn home to his Manhattan office.

• From 2003 to 2008, he led the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command , which oversees the military’s most sensitive forces, including the Army’s Delta Force. McChrystal’s leadership is credited with the December 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein.

• Oversaw a task force that was criticized in 2006 for abusing detainees and harsh interrogation methods at Baghdad’s Camp Nama.

• Praised by President George W. Bush in June 2006 after his special-ops team located and killed Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. McChrystal reportedly accompanied his men to the bombed-out hideaway in Baquba where al-Zarqawi lay to help identify the body.

• Singled out in a March 2007 report by the Pentagon inspector general for his role in the death of ex-NFL star and U.S. soldier Pat Tillman. Though the two-year investigation cleared McChrystal of any official wrongdoing, it faulted him for failing to immediately notify Tillman’s family of the military’s suspicions that Tillman’s death was the result of friendly fire.

• As commander of special-operations forces in Iraq, he sent troops returning to the theater back to their original neighborhoods — a system he has suggested for general infantry soldiers in Afghanistan as head of a recent task-force review.

Photos: U.S. troops in Afghanistan’s “Valley of Death.”

Quotes By:

“We are not expecting to drive into Baghdad suddenly and seize it in a coup de main.”
— On the military’s approach to conquering Iraq’s capital .

“I would anticipate that the major combat engagements are over because the major Iraqi units on the ground cease to show coherence.”
— Talking to reporters a month after U.S. forces invaded Iraq, adding: “I think we will move into a phase where it is smaller, albeit sharp, fights” .

Quotes About:

“Sometimes you have a situation where you have two very good commanders, but in a critical combat situation one has an edge, and in this case Gen. McChrystal has that edge.”
— Anthony Cordesman, of the Washington D.C.–based Center for Strategic and International Studies, on McChrystal’s experience in special ops .

“The man who ran that operation was promoted by George Bush a few years ago to be in charge of all operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His name is Stan McChrystal. And so since you now have somebody inside the Joint Chiefs of Staff who used to run the program, the idea that these operations aren’t known to the military is sort of silly. Of course they are.”
— Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, describing McChrystal’s role in what he calls an “executive assassination wing” of the military’s joint special-operations command that Hersh claims reported directly to former Vice President Cheney’s office .

“JSOC is awesome.”
— George W. Bush, praising McChrystal for his “collaborative warfare” approach to gathering intelligence in Iraq and hunting down high-profile insurgents .

“There is another man who will not be in the room. That is Lieutenant General Stan McChrystal. It should be very clear to everyone, General McChrystal is the head of covert special forces. The so-called dark or black forces. The ones who stay undercover … Because of his extraordinarily sensitive position with covert special forces, he is not appearing in public. And so he will not be questioned further by the committee in an open hearing.”
— Barbara Starr, CNN correspondent, on McChrystal’s absence during an August 2007 Congressional hearing over the friendly-fire death of former NFL star Pat Tillman .

Read “Target: Saddam.”
Read about Robert Gates’ plan for the defense budget.