" The two generals nominated by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to take command in Afghanistan and reverse what is seen as the steady downward spiral of the counterinsurgency effort have considerable experience with irregular warfare and are seen as officers capable of turning around a command in a very short period of time.
Gates announced Monday that he had fired Gen. David McKiernan, commander of all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and has recommended replacing him with Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who would get his fourth star. He also recommended that Lt. Gen. David Rodriquez serve as McChrystal’s deputy.
“LTGs McChrystal and Rodriguez are brilliant officers, with considerable experience in Afghanistan, in the conduct of irregular warfare, and in both conventional and special operations,” Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, told Stars and Stripes in an e-mail. “They have long been known and respected for their energy, expertise, and exceptional leadership.”
The change in leadership comes as the news in Afghanistan has grown steadily worse, with the Taliban increasing its activities and holding more ground. In the eastern Afghanistan city of Khost, a coordinated series of attacks by suicide bombers and insurgents Tuesday left several dead and sparked running gunbattles in which an American quick-reaction force was ambushed, with one U.S. soldier wounded.
Marine Lt. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, head of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, called McChrystal a “superstar” who worked tirelessly to integrate conventional and special operations forces when the two men worked in Iraq.
“The way he thinks is he really does understand that you’re not going to win the war by killing all the enemy. That’s not going to work,” Hejlik told reporters Tuesday.
“He understands the value of high-value targets, when necessary,” Hejlik said. “He also understands the value of having the small unit on the ground — the ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha)-type force, the 13-man force, that’s in there with the locals, living with them, eating with them, sleeping with them and training with them.”
McChrystal led Joint Special Operations Command for nearly five years prior to assuming his current post as director of the Joint Staff.
While in Iraq, troops under McChrystal were credited with capturing Saddam Hussein and killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, according to media reports.
Rodriguez became Gates’ military adviser after commanding U.S. troops in Eastern Afghanistan.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Michael T. Hall was command sergeant major for the 75th Ranger Regiment when McChrystal commanded the unit from 1997 through 1999.
He described the general as “the kind of guy that can look at any situation and solve the immediate problem, at the same time, at the very same time, look at what the second- and third-order effects of that decision are going to be, and solve them at the same time.
Hall characterized both McChrystal and Rodriguez as “Pattonesque in that they can take an organization in a very short period of time and turn around attitudes … .” Each has a personality “that makes you want to get on board,” he said.
Hall said junior leaders and rank and file soldiers “will be trusted to do what they think is right. They won’t have to fear retribution for making honest mistakes,” he said. “(But) I don’t think Gen. McChrystal or Gen. Rodriguez suffers fools lightly. Either you do your job — you give 100 percent and you do what you’re supposed to do — and if you don’t they’re going to find someone who can and will.”
A few senior officers assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy, also have worked under McChrystal.
Lt. Col. Matthew McFarlane, commander of the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, was a rifle platoon leader in the mid-1990s for the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Lewis, Wash. McChrystal was the battalion commander.
“He is the officer people aspire to be,” McFarlane said via phone from Grafenwöhr, Germany, where his battalion is training. “He has the unique ability to lead soldiers in the ranks from private to colonel. When he talks, people nod in understanding.”
Army Col. Joe Cox, with the 525th battlefield surveillance brigade out of Fort Bragg, N.C., served with McChrystal in Iraq and Afghanistan with Special Forces.
He remembers how McChrystal motivated his officers to do their best right before the 2005 Iraqi elections.
“He said, ‘If any of you think that you don’t know if you’ve got it in you, just go ahead and get off the bus, because we’re going to be going pretty fast and we got to go as a team.’
“So anecdotally, we all just kind of did our own self assessments, hey look, do we have what it takes to follow this leader? And lo and behold, you feel part of the process and you kind of get on board the bus,” Cox said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.