While the last 16 of football’s largest gala were being determined in the last group matches, a 4-star General leading NATO’s efforts to stamp out the tenacious Taliban and their vision of return to a joyless and brutal Islamic state that was Afghanistan from 1996 to January 2002 was brought down by an article published in the Rolling Stone magazine.
Rolling Stone is a publication whose usual fare consists of stories on various acts and personalities in the American music recording scene. With all the vuvuzelas blaring during this World Cup, it is quite possible that many may have missed the story of how an ascetic General with a background in the Special Forces was brought down by Rock n’ Roll.
General Stanley McChrystal replaced General David McKiernan upon appointment by President Barack Obama with the mandate to take back the ‘initiative’ from Taliban insurgents who were steadily gaining a foothold in Afghanistan.
The strategy was given the snappy military acronym of ‘COIN’ [counter insurgency] and was supposed to be based on restrained use of firepower by NATO troops, investment in social infrastructure and a surge in troop numbers.
General McChrystal seemed like just the man to implement this COIN, a General renown for his willingness to participate in missions with the frontline soldiers, ability to modernise military procedure and, by most accounts, a hard task master. Part of the General’s lore included stories of his 7-mile daily runs, 4-hour nights and taking a single meal a day.
It would appear that he was the man for the task of kicking the Taliban out of Afghanistan for good and, with any luck, withdrawing the bulk of US troops from that desolate bit of the world by 2011. As with many plans, things did not go according to plan [forgive the repetition]. Civilian casualties continued to rise despite orders for troops to restrain their fire.
Of the investment in Afghanistan’s social infrastructure, in which the US threw billions at one of the world’s poorest nations, it only served to exacerbate corruption in Afghan administrative units and did nothing to win the hearts and minds of Afghans.
General McChrystal got 30,000 of the 40,000 troops that he had asked for. The Taliban are, however, far from being defeated as the number of IEDs has doubled in the last year and a much vaunted operation in the poppy-growing Helmand province did not succeed in clearing the local Taliban out. The good General himself described the conflict in that area as a ‘bleeding cancer’.
Cue for Micheal Hastings of the Rolling Stone magazine. Mr. Hastings spent a month in the General’s company and it was his published article that proved to be the General’s downfall.
It would appear that the General’s frustrations were on show as he disparaged members of Obama’s administration, described a deteriorating relationship with the US ambassador in Kabul, retired General Karl Eikenberry, and seemed doubtful on prospects of victory by the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
US soldiers even cracked that ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] really stood for “In Sandals And Flip-Flops”. In the face of such public contempt for his administration, President Obama had little choice but to require the resignation of the General.
It should be interesting to see whether the mastermind of COIN and troop surges in Iraq, newly appointed [and former CENTCOM commander] General David Petreaus, will have better luck in Kabul. General Petreaus has had a run in with the press in the form of C-SPAN coverage that showed him fainting during a Congressional hearing.
Its safe to say that this General will be a media-shy one.
Oscar Kabbatende is a lawyer