Gates changes commanders in Afghanistan

US defense Secretary Robert Gates has asked for the top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan to resign and recommended he be replaced by a former Special Operations officer in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal.
He made the announcement without explanation at a Pentagon news conference Monday, May 11, attended also by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen.
debkafile‘s military sources report that the unusual step of changing commanders in mid-war indicates that the situation on the Afghan front is a lot more serious than apparent from official accounts. It may also reflect a sharp difference of opinion between the Obama administration and the high command as represented by Gen. McKiernan.
Western military experts have long been critical of US and British war strategy in Afghanistan. Taliban and al Qaeda manage are rapidly moving in on large stretches of the country, while US and UK units are too slow and cumbersome to cut them off. Their old-fashioned, slow combat techniques give the fast-moving enemy the upper hand.
Required in Afghanistan, say most experts, are small, swift units armed with massive firing power – not unwieldy groups which are lodged in large bases and emerge for forays against the enemy. Taliban and al Qaeda keep track of US troop movements through local informants employed at their bases and so deny them the element of surprise.
Last week, Gates was in Afghanistan and visited the large Camp Leatherneck base under construction in the embattled southern province of Helmand on the Pakistan border. This base is designed to accommodate the 17,000 extra troops Obama has approved for Afghanistan in the summer.
The defense secretary apparently received the impression that Gen. McKiernan was not planning a change in tactics and therefore decided to replace him.
The incoming chief, Gen. McChrystal, currently the director of the joint staff, was forward commander of the US military’s covert Joint Special Operations Command from 2006 to August 2008, which was responsible for tracking down and killing al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi in April 2006, as well as high-profile Sunni insurgents.
Gates seems to believe that McChrystal’s special operations tactics may succeed better in breaking Talilban-al Qaeda resistance than the more traditional methods of the departing Gen. McKiernan.

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