- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 10, 2013

When Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford took command of the war in Afghanistan on Feb. 10, he succeeded a line of hard-luck officers who had succumbed to scandal or felt the White House’s sting over requests for more troops.

President Obama has changed top commanders in Afghanistan — which he says is the heart of the war on terrorism — five times in less than five years. Retired officers say this is some kind of record for hiring and firing or shifting four-star officers in a major theater of war.

In contrast, the Iraq War required four, four-star commanders, starting in 2004, over 71/2 years. The last commander served only a year because his job was to oversee the U.S. troop exit, which was completed in December 2011.

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“We’re trying to do too many missions with too few forces in Afghanistan,” retired Gen. Ronald Griffith, a former vice chief of the Army, told The Washington Times. “I guess the way you deal with that, if you’re in Washington, is you either change the commander or you change the strategy.”

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who led a division that ousted Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991, called the rapid turnover of generals “a huge mistake.” Compounding the problem, he said, is that other allied nations leave their commanders in Afghanistan for even a shorter time, sometimes just six months.

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“We should have kept a team of senior people together in Afghanistan for five years at a time,” Gen. McCaffrey told The Times. “What kind of medium-complexity business would continually shuffle the leadership? All this turnover at the top had a detrimental effect on the broad direction of the war.”

SEE ALSO: Chuck Hagel-Hamid Karzai talks marred by accusations of U.S.-Taliban collusion

The parade of generals in and out of Kabul began in 2009, when Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced the firing of ArmyGen. David D. McKiernan after one year.

The stated reason: Mr. Gates wanted new thinking on counter-Taliban operations that he did not see in the conventional Army background of Gen. McKiernan, a big player in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. His Army colleagues said the general was in disfavor for wanting more boots on the ground at a time when Mr. Obama wanted to bring them home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“David McKiernan, in my judgment, told them what he needed to do the job with,” Gen. Griffith said. “And it probably made them uncomfortable.”

CNN reported that Gen. McKiernan said at his retirement ceremony: “I was dismayed, disappointed and more than a little embarrassed.”

The search for stability

Next: Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, a career special operations warrior who hunted down al Qaeda leaders in Iraq. With Gen. McChrystal came a new war strategy and, like Gen. McKiernan, a request for more troops, something Mr. Obama partially met.

Gen. McChrystal lasted only a year. He allowed a Rolling Stone reporter to be embedded with him and his staff, and the ensuing article quoted them as making disparaging remarks about the president and Vice President Joseph R. Biden. Gen. McChrystal was fired.

Analysts said at the time that the command in Afghanistan needed stability with its next leader. The command did not get that stability.

In a scramble, the White House turned to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus. As a U.S. senator, Mr. Obama criticized Gen. Petraeus for defending the 2007 surge of U.S. troops into Iraq.

Story Continues →