Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Af-Pak: McChrystal Choice Suggests Special Ops Strikes to Continue

(Inter Press Service)

The choice of Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal to become the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan has been hailed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and national news media as ushering in a new unconventional approach to counterinsurgency.

But McChrystal’s background sends a very different message from the one claimed by Gates and the news media. His long specialization in counterterrorism operations suggests an officer who is likely to have more interest in targeted killings than in the kind of politically sensitive counterinsurgency programs that the Obama administration has said it intends to carry out.

In announcing the extraordinary firing of Gen. David McKiernan and the nomination of McChrystal to replace him, Gates said that the mission in Afghanistan “requires new thinking and new approaches by our military leaders” and praised McChrystal for his “unique skill set in counterinsurgency.”

Media reporting on the choice of McChrystal have echoed the Pentagon’s line. The Washington Post said his selection “marks the continued ascendancy of officers who have pressed for the use of counterinsurgency tactics, in Iraq and Afghanistan, that are markedly different from the Army’s traditional doctrine.”

The New York Times cited unnamed “Defense Department officials” in reporting, “His success in using intelligence and firepower to track and kill insurgents, and his training in unconventional warfare that emphasizes the need to protect the population, made him the best choice for the command in Afghanistan.”

The Wall Street Journal suggested that McChrystal was the kind of commander who would “fight the kind of complex counterinsurgency warfare” that Gates wants to see in Afghanistan, because his command of Special Operations forces in Iraq had involved “units that specialize in guerilla warfare, including the training of indigenous armies.”

These explanations for the choice of McChrystal equate his command of the Special Operations forces with expertise on counterinsurgency, despite the fact that McChrystal spent his last five years as a commander of Special Operations forces focusing overwhelmingly on counterterrorism operations, not on counterinsurgency.

Whereas counterinsurgency operations are aimed primarily at influencing the population and are primarily nonmilitary, counterterrorism operations are exclusively military and focus on targeting the “enemy.”

As commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) from April 2003 to August 2008, he was preoccupied with pursuing high value Al Qaeda targets and local and national insurgent leaders in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan—mostly through targeted raids and airstrikes.

It was under McChrystal’s command, in fact, that JSOC shifted away from the very mission of training indigenous military units in counterinsurgency operations that had been a core mission of Special Operations Forces.

McChrystal spent an unusual five years as commander of JSOC, because he had become a close friend of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld came to view JSOC as his counter to the covert ops capabilities of the CIA, which he distrusted, and he used JSOC to capture or kill high value enemy leaders, including Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda’s top leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

In 2005, JSOC’s parent command, the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), was directed by Rumsfeld to “plan, synchronize and, as directed, conduct global operations against terrorist networks in coordination with other combatant commanders.” That directive has generally been regarded as granting SOCOM the authority to carry out actions unilaterally anywhere on the globe.

Under that directive, McChyrstal and JSOC carried out targeted raids and other operations against suspected Taliban in Afghanistan, which were not coordinated with the commander of other U.S. forces in the country. Gen. David Barno, a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has said that he put a stop to targeted airstrikes in early 2004, but they resumed after he was replaced by McKiernan in 2005.

U.S. airstrikes which have caused hundreds of civilian deaths have become a major political issue in Afghanistan and the subject of official protests by Afghan President Hamid Karzai as well as by the lower house of the Afghan parliament. Many of the airstrikes and commando raids that have caused large-scale civilian deaths have involved Special Operations forces operating separately from the NATO command.

Special Operations forces under McChrystal’s command also engaged in raiding homes in search of Taliban suspects, angering villagers in Herat province to the point where they took up arms against the U.S. forces, according to a May 2007 story by Carlotta Gall and David E. Sanger of the New York Times.

After a series of raids by Special Operations forces in Afghanistan in late 2008 and early 2009 killed women and children, to mounting popular outrage, McChrystal’s successor as commander of JSOC, Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, ordered a temporary reduction in the rate of such commando raids in mid-February for two weeks.

However, the JSOC raids resumed at their original intensity in March. Later that month Gen. David Petraeus issued a directive putting all JSOC operations under McKiernan’s tactical command, but there has been no evidence that the change has curbed the raids by Special Operations Forces.

President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones responded to Karzai’s demand for an end to U.S. airstrikes by saying, “We’re going to take a look at trying to make sure that we correct those things we can correct, but certainly to tie the hands of our commanders and say we’re not going to conduct air strikes, it would be imprudent.”

The airstrike in western Farah province that killed nearly 150 civilians last week, provoking protests by hundreds of university students in Kabul, was also ordered by Special Operations Forces.

McChrystal’s nomination to become director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon in May 2008 was held up for months while the Senate Armed Services Committee investigated a pattern of abuse of detainees by military personnel under his command. Sixty-four service personnel assigned or attached to Special Operations units were disciplined for detainee abuse between early 2004 and the end of 2007.

Capt. Carolyn Wood, an operations officer with the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, gave military investigators a sworn statement in 2004 in which she said she had drawn guidance for interrogation from a directive called “TF-121 IROE,” which had been given to the members of Task Force 121, a unit directly under JSOC.

However, the military refused to make that document public, despite requests from the American Civil Liberties Union and other human rights groups, protecting McChrystal from legal proceedings regarding his responsibility for detainee abuses.

He was never held accountable for those abuses, supposedly because of the secrecy of the operation of JSOC.

Although he has been linked with detainee abuses and raids that killed considerable numbers of civilians, McChrystal has not had any direct experience with the nonmilitary elements of counterinsurgency strategy.

W. Patrick Lang, formerly the defense intelligence officer for the Middle East, suggested in his blog on May 11 that the McChrystal nomination “sounds like a paradigm shift in which Obama’s policy of destroying the leadership of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan takes priority over everything else.”

The choice of McChrystal certainly appears to signal the administration’s readiness to continue the special ops raids and airstrikes that are generating growing Afghan opposition to the U.S. military presence.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the more effective U.S. lobbying outfits, aims to ensure that the United States backs Israel regardless of the policies Israel pursues.


Erik Prince, former CEO of the mercenary group Blackwater, continues to sell security services around the world as controversies over his work—including in China and the Middle East, and his alleged involvement in collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia—grow.


Gina Haspel is the first woman to hold the position of director of the CIA, winning her confirmation despite her history of involvement in torture during the Iraq War.


Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) is a pressure group founded in early 2019 that serves as a watchdog and enforcer of Israel’s reputation in the Democratic Party.


Richard Grenell is the U.S. ambassador to Germany for the Donald Trump administration, known for his brusque and confrontational style.


Zalmay Khalilzad is Donald Trump’s special representative to the Afghan peace process, having previously served as ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq under George W. Bush.


Robert Joseph played a key role in manipulating U.S. intelligence to support the invasion of Iraq and today is a lobbyist for the MEK.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

The Senate on Wednesday passed a measure mandating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Saudi/UAE-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. The vote marks the first time since the War Powers Act of 1973 became law that both chambers of Congress have directed the president to withdraw American forces from a conflict.


The Trump administration’s failed “maximum pressure” approach to Iran and North Korea begs the question what the US president’s true objectives are and what options he is left with should the policy ultimately fail.


In the United States, it’s possible to debate any and every policy, domestic and foreign, except for unquestioning support for Israel. That, apparently, is Ilhan Omar’s chief sin.


While Michael Cohen mesmerized the House of Representatives and President Trump resumed his love affair with North Korea’s Kim Jong, one of the most dangerous state-to-state confrontations, centering in Kashmir, began to spiral out of control.


The Trump administration’s irresponsible withdrawal from the landmark Iran nuclear agreement undermined Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and emboldened hardliners who accused him of having been deceived by Washington while negotiating the agreement. However, the Iranian government could use the shock of Zarif’s resignation to push back against hardliners and take charge of both the domestic and foreign affairs of the country while Iran’s foreign opponents should consider the risks of destabilizing the government under the current critical situation.


Europe can play an important role in rebuilding confidence in the non-proliferation regime in the wake of the demise of the INF treaty, including by making it clear to the Trump administration that it wants the United States to refrain from deploying INF-banned missiles in Europe and to consider a NATO-Russian joint declaration on non-first deployment.


The decline in Israel’s appeal to Democrats is directly related to the wider awareness of the country’s increasingly authoritarian nature, its treatment of Palestinians, and its reluctance to take substantive steps toward peace. Pro-Israel liberals face a fundamental paradox trying to reconcile Israel’s illiberalism with their political values.


RightWeb
share