Gates ousts US commander in Afghanistan, saying 'we must do better'
The man he wants for the post, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is deeply versed in special operations.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates abruptly removed the top US commander from Afghanistan Monday, replacing him with a general whose background in special operations may signal a desire to further refine the military strategy there.Skip to next paragraph
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Gates's nominee, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, led Joint Special Operations Command until last year, and "his focus and his background are very relevant to our needs there," Secretary Gates said at a Pentagon press conference Monday. Some analysts believe the mission in Afghanistan needs a greater focus on special operations, because such missions involve relatively few troops but can have a large impact.
General McChrystal, for example, is credited with overseeing the attack that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, in 2006. If confirmed by the Senate, he will replace Gen. David McKiernan, who has been criticized in some quarters for lacking new ideas on how to implement President Obama's strategy for Afghanistan.
Gates said McChrystal will bring "fresh eyes" to the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, where attacks are up 73 percent compared with last year, according to NATO.
"That's the challenge that we give to the new leadership," said Gates. "How do we do better? What new ideas do you have? What fresh thinking do you have? Are there different ways of accomplishing our goals?"
The firing harked back to 2006, when President Bush replaced the top commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, with Gen. David Petraeus about the same time he "surged" troops there under a new strategy. Likewise, Mr. Obama announced a new strategy for Afghanistan this spring, committing more than 21,000 additional troops to the country and sending a new ambassador two weeks ago.
On Monday, Gates also nominated his own chief of staff, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, to a newly created position in Kabul that will oversee day-to-day operations. This is expected to result in greater US control over the multinational mission there.