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McChrystal, ROEs and COIN

If you watch a lot of movies about World War II you'll notice the soldiers often swagger about when they aren't broken, or grinding on with a sense of grim commitment.

Remember that as you read the coverage of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior commander in Afghanistan who may have allowed Rolling Stone magazine too close and too honest a glimpse into the workings of his command. The popular publication's reporter clearly did an excellent job of earning the confidence of the general and his aides. They all may well have let down their guard so much that the general loses his job. Exhibiting sound judgment is fundamental to command so this does raise fundamental questions about the general's leadership. The general's conduct is especially puzzling given his former role as Pentagon spokesman during the Bush administration. As McChrystal heads to Washington for a White House-ordered meeting, one McChrystal aide has already resigned. The civilian aide, Duncan Boothby, had been on McChrystal's staff for a year

Now it is up to President Obama to decide whether the general went a comment too far. [Our photo dates from McChrystal's earlier visit to the White House.] As the president weighs the damage, he and his staff will remember that they are the ones who elevated McChrystal, a veteran of the black world of special operations, to a very public post. Special operators are often derided by the conventional military for exactly the kind of behavior that McChrystal and his aides exhibited.

On the other hand, the profile can be read as a bracing look at a tough, wily and committed commander, one who does not suffer pomp and circumstance -- or fools -- gladly. It can also be read as a piece by a reporter, or at least a publication, unfamiliar with the military. Describing counterinsurgency as a "controversial" doctrine, and implying that the general would use Afghanistan as his personal "laboratory" to test it does little to inspire confidence. It ignores the lessons of Malaya, Northern Ireland, the Philippines and other successful counterinsurgencies.

McChrystal issued a statement saying that he offers, "my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened." The AP reported that Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with McChrystal about the article Monday night. During the 10-minute conversation, the chairman "expressed his deep disappointment in the piece and the comments" according to his spokesman.

McChrystal's statement takes head-on the criticisms he knows he will face over the coming days: "Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard. I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war, and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome."

Perhaps the most interesting section of the article deals with McChrystal's controversial rules of engagement, which many troops have criticized as overly restrictive. It contains a revealing quote by the general as he tries to convince some front line soldiers that his ROEs will work. It exhibits the essential contradiction of COIN. First, you have to clear -- which means killing the armed bad guys -- so that you can then hold and build. "You have to show strength here, you have to use fire. What I'm telling you is, fire costs you. What do you want to do? You want to wipe out the population out here and resettle it?"

One of DoD Buzz's readers in a comment posted today made arguments similar to those McChrystal confronted:

I am in the military right now, I am in Afghanistan, and this is what I think. Todays wars, if thats even what we should still call them, are nothing but politics. What happened to the days of “see that hill, take that hill”. Now days we spend months and years trying to negotiate and reason with the enemy at the top of that same hill, and we bring so much politics into it.

Look at it this way, looking for Bin Laden is a joke. Does anyone honestly think that if he is killed that terroism around the world will just stop. Of course not. Bin Laden is not why we are in Afghanistan, we are here for reasons that will never be disclosed to the American people, the media will continue feeding the public the same bullshit the media has always fed us.

And one last thing, look back at world war 2. The Nazi’s were fighting for an idea, they thought they were better than every other nation, and they wanted to control the world. Did we fight a political war then. Hell no we didnt, we fought a WAR and we defeated Germany. Did we try and sweet talk the Nazi’s and find other solutions. Of course not. And today, what are we doing, we are fighting a political war with no clear objectives in sight, and we are trying to negotiate with the Taliban and make excuses for ourselves.

And were we worried back in WWII about civilian casulties. Well, look at Japan. The United States decided that instead of sacfricing tens of thousands more soldiers and Marines to take the mainland of Japan, to force them into surrender. And the atomic bomb was dropped. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese were killed, and we didnt care because it saved American lives. When are we as a Nation going to grow a pair and fight this war the way we always have in the past.

We will never come close to winning if the way we are “fighting now” continues.

Perhaps the lasting story that will emerge from the Rolling Stone piece is that McChrystal issued ROEs that have confused the troops, robbed them of initiative and, ironically, inhibited the successful pursuit of the first element of COIN, without which there can be no progress: finding and crippling the enemy through use of force.

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