Stanley McChrystal

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See also: U.S. policy towards Afghanistan
See also: Afghanistan War (2001-)

Stanley A. McChrystal is a general in the United States Army, who simultaneously commanded the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and United States Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A). He was relieved of command, in June 2010, by President Barack Obama, after an interview was published that the President said "undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system."[1] At least on an interim basis, he has been replaced by his previous commander, General David Petraeus.

As opposed to the previous commander, GEN David McKiernan, who was a distinguished "heavy" armored force commander, his career has been in special operations and infantry — a "lightfighter". McChrystal was the personal choice of United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to replace McKiernan before his assignment ended, believing that "new eyes" were needed.[2]

He had headed the highly classified Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) from 2003 to 2008, when he took over as Director of the Joint Staff. He was promoted to four-star general and sent to Afghanistan in June 2009.


GEN McChrystal has been unusually vocal in favoring a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, which has raised some questions about civilian control of the military in news media,[3] and also in military forums. [4] Some liken him to a Douglas MacArthur although not as insubordinate, while others believe he is acting responsibly to protect the lives of his troops. [5]

Command in Afghanistan

He formed a Strategic Assessment Group of civilian and military experts to advise him on new approaches in Afghanistan:


The Obama administration sent mixed messages on sending more troops to Afghanistan. McChrystal told a reporter he would request more if he believed they were needed. [6] There were reports that his predecessor's getting 21,000 more troops led to his dismissal; Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs James Jones had been quoted as "saying no more troops would be forthcoming and that the strategy should focus on economic development. 'If that is not done right, there are not enough troops in the world to succeed.'"” [7]

Anthony Cordesman said more resources would be needed, but also new strategies. After a visit in August 2009, wrote

The United States cannot win the war in Afghanistan in the next three months -- any form of even limited victory will take years of further effort. It can, however, easily lose the war.[8]

Cordesman said that the George W. Bush Administration had given priority in resources to the Iraq War, both for security and humanitarian purposes, and did not respond to problems of corruption in the government of Hamid Karzai. "It treated Pakistan as an ally when it was clear to U.S. experts on the scene that the Pakistani military and intelligence service did (and do) tolerate al-Qaeda and Afghan sanctuaries and still try to manipulate Afghan Pashtun to Pakistan's advantage."

Aside from political considerations, reinforcement has been questioned as possibly provocative to Afghan culture. One of McChrystal's advisers, Fred Kagan, wrote that the sensitivity to the Soviets had little to do with force size. [9] A major change in U.S. doctrine, which does need more troops, is moving to a counterinsurgency doctrine, providing security to the population, especially in South Afghanistan. Under McKiernan and predecessors, there were abundant "enemy-centric" counterterrorism operations, but many analysts believe not enough population security.


While the national policymakers are still reviewing resources and priorities, he has been issuing guidance to forces in-country, including using extreme care to avoid civilian casualties from air strikes, and driving to reflect the level of threat:

An ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] patrol was traveling through a city at a high rate of speed, driving down the center to force traffic off the road. Several pedestrians and other vehicles were pushed out of the way. A vehicle approached from the side into the traffic circle. The gunner fired a pen flare at it, which entered the vehicle and caught the interior on fire. As the ISAF patrol sped away, Afghans crowded around the car. How many insurgents did the patrol make that day?[10]

He then issued an overall counterinsurgency directive, with the key phrase being "partnering with the Afghan National Security Forces. Partnering is not the same thing as mentoring. Partnering means that you pair units together and do everything together: live, eat, train, plan, operate. This is a big change from the way we have engaged with the ANSF in the past and will require a shift in thought and deed among ISAF units and their commanders."[11]

Senior assignments

Much of McChrystal's career has been in classified operations. In five years at JSOC, he improved cooperation with other parts of the U.S. government, still out of sight. He was reported to have supported, and was to lead, an operation to capture or kill Ayman al-Zawahiri, #2 in al-Qaeda, in Pakistan in 2005. [12]

His actions regarding the "friendly fire" death of Ranger Pat Tillman have been questioned; the early reports said he had been killed by the enemy and the facts covered up. An investigation indicated he knew the facts when approving the Silver Star for Tillman, and his sending a message "our nation's leaders," specifically the president, to avoid cribbing the "devastating enemy fire" explanation from Tillman's citation for their speeches. In 2007, senior Army officers overruled investigators' recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for his "misleading" actions.[13]

After graduating from the U.S. Naval War College, he was an action officer for Joint Special Operations Command during the Gulf War. After Iraq, he commanded an Airborne and then a Ranger Battalion, and then took a Senior Service College Fellowship at Harvard University, returning to command the 75th Ranger Regiment. Returning to Washington, he was Vice Director for Operations of the Joint Staff.

From the field with the Rangers, he became a Military Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of CFR, said that he ran 12 miles, each way, each day, to his office there, and, Council on Foreign Relations in 2000, he ran a dozen miles each morning to the council’s offices from his quarters at Fort Hamilton on the southwestern tip of Brooklyn. “If you asked me the first thing that comes to mind about General McChrystal, I think of no body fat.” [12]

He returned to troop duty as Assistant Division Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, then as its Chief of Staff. He then deployed to the Afghanistan War (2001-) as Chief of Staff of Task Force 180.

Early career

He commanded a "heavy" mechanized infantry company and served on its battalion staff, then went back into the Special Operations community with the 75th Ranger Regiment. After graduating from the United States Military Academy, in the paratroop 82nd Airborne Division, and, when eligible, qualified in United States Army Special Forces. He led an Special Forces "A Team", then served in intelligence and operations for the United Nations command in South Korea.


  1. Obama relieves McChrystal of command, MSNBC, 23 June 2010
  2. John T. Bennett (13 May 2009), "McChrystal to replace McKiernan in Afghan war", Army Times
  3. Bruce Ackerman (3 October 2009), "A General's Public Pressure", Washington Post
  4. W. Patrick Lang (3 October 2009), ""A General's Public Pressure" - Ackerman", Sic Semper Tyrannis
  5. Michael O'Hanlon (6 October 2009), "A General Within Bounds", Washington Post
  6. Nancy A. Youssef ((updated 24 August) 12 July 2009), "McChrystal says he won't pull punches on Afghan proposals", McClatchy Newspapers
  7. Catherine Philp (1 August 2009), "Afghanistan commander General Stanley McChrystal to call for more US troops", Times (UK)
  8. Anthony Cordesman (31 August 2009), "How to Lose in Afghanistan", Washington Post
  9. Frederick W. Kagan (21 August 2009), "We're Not the Soviets in Afghanistan, And 2009 Isn't 1979", The Daily Standard
  10. Nathan Hodge (25 August 2009), "Handbook: Win Friends and Influence People in Afghanistan", Wired
  11. "Abu Muqawama" (25 August 2009), COMISAF COIN Guidance Released, Center for a New American Security
  12. 12.0 12.1 Elisabeth Bumiller and Mark Mazzetti I (May 13, 2009), "Man in the News: A General Steps From the Shadows", New York Times
  13. "Tillman's parents want general's record reviewed", USA Today, 13 May 2009