Afghanistan: — The Prospects for the War if McChrystal Resumed or Relieved as Commanding General



Observers were split over the insubordination and mocking comments by General McChrystal and his staff towards the Vice President, senior Whitehouse officials, and Mr. Obama that was recently published in an article by a Rolling Stones Magazine writer. Some viewed this as an unimportant matter and thus we should have proceeded with the war effort, while others viewed it a profound act of disobedience by a top soldier and his lower chain of command that required severe reprimanding.

General Stanley McChrystal

There is no doubt that this Whitehouse-McChrystal dilemma is a huge additional distraction to the impending campaign in Kandahar; and the fallout, could alter the existing and difficult war quagmire by significantly redefining the shape, form and function of the entire war effort in Afghanistan. There are pluses and minuses to both sides of the aforementioned public exposure of the General’s thoughts.


Relieving the general could be a major blow to the already slow moving counterinsurgency operation in Kandahar, where the prospect for success throughout Afghanistan hinges upon success in this Pashtun heartland city that cradled the Taliban over a decade ago.

General McChrystal enjoyed the closest relationship of any American official with the unpopular Afghan President. Mr. Karzai was in support of McChrystal’s continued service as the top General to lead the NATO operation in his country.

Furthermore, there is no doubt that, Mr. Karzai was trying to make every effort to hang on to this General. With McChrystal’s removal, Karzai’s mental state could become even more fragile because his sense of isolation from Ambassador Eikenberry, Holbrooke and secretary Gates is highly likely to be guaranteed. General David Petraeus who has now replaced General McChrystal could have unknown consequences upon Karzai and any future doctrine that reflects and measures stability and success of the war.

Any revision to the current plan may lead to other developments; a policy change could alter Kandahar’s power broker grip that places Karzai’s tribe in a position to dominate other tribes in the region. A new doctrine could break the Karzai family, and tribal dominance over Kandahar.

However, General McChrystal has been walking a fine-line in dealing with Karzai and the powerbrokers in Kandahar. Whatever the case, there are some strong value added influences that Mr. Karzai needed from McChrystal to keep his alleged corrupt family afloat and in power.

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With respect to the Taliban, they joyfully said, “The Afghan people can see the divisions between the Americans and the other nations, between the commanders and the civilians,” they went on. “If they don’t leave Afghanistan in the coming years most of their soldiers will die or go crazy.”


If the General had carried on with his job, undoubtedly, there would have been some bridge building and fence mending with his close colleagues Holbrooke and Eikenberry that had to take place. He would have had to work hard to repair his relationships with all civilian leaders. McChrystal’s relationship with them had already turned sour due to the many disagreements over the war effort. Hence, General McChrystal would have had to walk a fine-line with the civilian leadership as well.

Due to the limited window left for troop withdrawal by July 2011, he not only would have had to make his counterinsurgency campaign a workable one, but he had to win the hearts and minds of ordinary folks on the ground. In that regards, with the severity of the Karzai family caused tribal imbalance, and opium cultivation out of control, it wouldn’t have been an easy task for him.

Because of this recent brouhaha, McChrystal and the Obama administration in essence should have had a policy review before the scheduled one in December 2010. The current policy and the current policy creator both should have come under earlier review.


Unfortunately, General McChrystal allowed a culture of arrogance and contempt for the civilian leadership to emerge within in his staff, which is unacceptable in any military leader structure, in peacetime or in war.

Of course, the war cannot be prosecuted successfully if there is no two way trust and respect between the President and his general on the ground. And that officer cannot advise his upper chain of command effectively if he does not defer to that chain of command himself.

On another hand, the fundamental issue here is that the military in Afghanistan is under enormous pressure and stress. This war by itself is the toughest war in a post WWII world; the graveyard of empires cannot be dealt with by cutting corners or making snap judgments based on media exposure alone.

If I had Mr. Obama’s ears, I would have told him a fallen wheel in a vehicle will not make the vehicle run, no matter who the driver is. And therefore, despite that you have replaced General McChrystal with General Petraeus as the commanding general, rest assured, this will not change the war on the ground. Unless, a new policy review is conducted that includes native Afghan thinkers and policy makers within the Afghan American community who can really help in this effort, nothing is going to change. Native born Afghan Americans have family ties to all of the players on the ground, and can go where no other Americans can go.

And finally, the Major question is: How will the Karzai family behave now that McChrystal is gone?

Khalil Nouri is the cofounder of New World Strategies Coalition Inc., a native think tank for nonmilitary solution studies for Afghanistan.

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