Gen. David Petraeus takes over in Afghanistan: Will it make a difference?
Gen. David Petraeus, who replaced ousted Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is a widely respected officer who wrote the Army's counterinsurgency manual and helped craft US policy in Afghanistan.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top US military commander in Afghanistan until today, has been dismissed from his post by President Obama. Will that affect the operations of American troops on the ground?Skip to next paragraph
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It doesn’t look as if it will, at least for now.
In announcing the McChrystal firing, Obama emphasized that he remains committed to the current strategy, which calls for a bump-up in US personnel in Afghanistan this year. And Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus – the man Obama picked to replace McChrystal – literally wrote the manual on counterinsurgency techniques which US commanders in Afghanistan have been following.
IN PICTURES: Controversial American generals
Petraeus was a surprise choice, in the sense that as head of a combatant command he was McChrystal’s boss, and thus the Afghanistan job represents something of a demotion.
But as the general widely credited for turning around the dire situation in Iraq, he is respected by lawmakers of both parties. His presence in Kabul may allow the Obama team in Washington to put the McChrystal incident behind it more quickly than it would have otherwise.
McChrystal’s firing was done quickly – the general had a few minutes with Obama in the morning, then left prior to the beginning of the monthly White House meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan policy. In announcing the move Obama stressed that it stemmed only from the general’s behavior in speaking too loosely to a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine, and not from any differences in policy.
Obama said he remained in “full agreement” with McChrystal’s approach to fighting the difficult Afghan conflict.
Winning hearts and minds
McChrystal, a former chief of Special Operations Command, did not get the Afghanistan post in the first place by being a conventional general. Instead, he emphasized a counterinsurgency doctrine that holds among other things that the strategically crucial high ground in the war is the hearts and minds of the Afghan people as much as the mountain ridges along the border with Pakistan.
McChrystal calls his approach “population-centric.” Among other things, it involves less use of close air support to bolster US ground troops when they take fire. This has reduced Afghan civilian casualties, but increased worries among junior officers about the risks they and their patrols must take.