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Profile: Stanley A. McChrystal
Stanley A. McChrystal was a participant or observer in the following events:
US intelligence learns through communications intercepts about a meeting of al-Qaeda leaders in Bajaur, in the remote border regions of Pakistan near Afghanistan (one account says the meeting is in nearby North Waziristan instead). Intelligence officials have an “80 percent confidence” that al-Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri and/or other top al-Qaeda leaders are attending the meeting. One intelligence official involved in the operation says, “This was the best intelligence picture we had ever seen” about a high-value target. [New York Times, 7/8/2007; Newsweek, 8/28/2007; New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Size of US Force Grows - The original plan calls for cargo planes to carry 30 Navy Seals near the target, then they will use motorized hang gliders to come closer and capture or kill al-Zawahiri. The plan is enthusiastically endorsed by CIA Director Porter Goss and Joint Special Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his assistant Stephen Cambone are uncertain. They increase the size of the force to 150 to take care of contingencies. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] One senior intelligence official involved later says for effect, “The whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan.” [New York Times, 7/8/2007]
"Frenzied" Debate - But even as US special forces are boarding C-130 cargo planes in Afghanistan, there are “frenzied exchanges between officials at the Pentagon, Central Command, and the CIA about whether the mission was too risky.” Some CIA officials in Washington even try to give orders to execute the raid without informing US Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker, who apparently is often opposed to such missions. [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Rumsfeld Gives Up Without Asking - Having decided to increase the force, Rumsfeld then decides he couldn’t carry out such a large mission without Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s permission. But with the cargo planes circling and the team waiting for a green light, Rumsfeld decides that Musharraf would not approve. He cancels the mission without actually asking Musharraf about it. It is unclear whether President Bush is informed about the mission. The New York Times will later report that “some top intelligence officials and members of the military’s secret Special Operations units” are frustrated at the decision to cancel the operation, saying the US “missed a significant opportunity to try to capture senior members of al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 7/8/2007] It is not clear why the US does not hit the meeting with a missile fired from a Predator drone instead, as they will do to kill an al-Qaeda leader inside Pakistan a couple of months later (see May 8, 2005).
Entity Tags: Stephen A. Cambone, US Special Forces, Porter J. Goss, Pervez Musharraf, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ryan C. Crocker, Central Intelligence Agency, Navy Seals, Donald Rumsfeld, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. [Source: Defense Department / Helene C. Stikkel]The Washington Post reports in a front page story, “The clandestine US commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years. Nothing from the vast US intelligence world—no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image—has led them anywhere near the al-Qaeda leader, according to US and Pakistani officials.” It is widely believed by US intelligence that bin Laden is hiding in tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. Since May 2005, al-Qaeda has killed at least 23 tribal leaders in the region who are opposed to them, making intelligence collection increasingly difficult. There is no single person in charge of the US search for bin Laden with authority to direct covert operations. One counterterrorism official complains, “There’s nobody in the United States government whose job it is to find Osama bin Laden! Nobody!” However, Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has become the de facto leader of the search. In recent months, President Bush has requested that the CIA “flood the zone” to gain better intelligence and efforts have stepped up. But at the same time, “Pakistan has grown increasingly reluctant to help the US search.… Pakistani and US counterterrorism and military officials admit that Pakistan has now all but stopped looking for bin Laden. ‘The dirty little secret is, [the US has] nothing, no operations, without the Paks,’ one former counterterrorism officer said.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2006]
Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal. [Source: DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel/Released, via Reuters]Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen announce the nomination of controversial former special/black operations commander Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal to replace the top US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan. At the Pentagon, Gates explains that “new leadership and fresh eyes” are needed to reverse the course of the seven-year-old war. “We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed,” he says. The White House confirms that President Obama has signed off on the nomination. McChrystal is the former commander of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which during his tenure was tied to prisoner abuse and covert assassinations in Iraq, as well as controversy in the military’s handling of the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. McKiernan will remain in place until the Senate confirms the appointments of McChrystal and his designated deputy, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, also a veteran of elite US forces. Both officers have experience in Afghanistan and have more familiarity with counterinsurgency operations than McKiernan. Gates says that McChrystal and Rodriguez will “bring a unique skill set in counterinsurgency to these issues, and I think that they will provide the kind of new leadership and fresh thinking that [Admiral Mike Mullen] and I have been talking about.” [CNN, 5/11/2009; Army Times, 5/11/2009]
Prisoner Abuse, Geneva Convention Violations - Under McChrystal’s command, the Joint Special Operations Command supplied elite troops to a secret unit known variously as Task Force 626 and Task Force 121, based at Camp Nama (an acronym for “nasty ass military area”) near Baghdad. A Human Rights Watch report found evidence that the task force engaged in prisoner torture and abuse, and that the JSOC command likely violated the Geneva Conventions (see November 2004). According to the report, which was based on soldier testimony, inmates at the camp were subjected to beatings, exposure to extreme cold, threats of death, humiliation, and various forms of psychological abuse or torture. The report’s sources claimed that written authorizations were required for abusive techniques—indicating that the use of these tactics was approved up the chain of command—and that McChrystal denied the Red Cross and other investigators access to Camp Nama, a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [New York Times, 3/19/2006; Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Secret Assassinations - During McChrystal’s tenure as head of JSOC, he led campaigns to track down, capture, or kill enemies. To this end, McChrystal built a sophisticated network of soldiers and intelligence operatives to assassinate Sunni insurgent leaders and decapitate al-Qaeda in Iraq. He is also understood to have led the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, a Human Rights Watch report on the secret units under JSOC command states that although targets included Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the operations also swept up “hundreds of anonymous, and often innocent, detainees.” One senior Pentagon officer, quoted by the Washington Post, warns, “People will ask, what message are we sending when our high-value-target hunter is sent to lead in Afghanistan?” [Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Washington Post, 5/13/2009] Newsweek has noted that JSOC is likely part of what then-Vice President Dick Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006] Furthermore, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has reported that JSOC ran what he called an “executive assassination wing” that reported directly to Cheney’s office, which then cleared lists of people to be targeted for assassination by secret JSOC units (see March 10, 2009 and March 31, 2009).
Pat Tillman Silver Star Controversy - The Pentagon’s inspector general found McChrystal responsible for promulgating false and misleading information in the aftermath of the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman in 2004. In the controversy, McChrystal had approved paperwork recommending Tillman for a silver star, which stated that he died from “devastating enemy fire,” despite knowledge of internal investigations pointing to friendly fire as the cause of death (see April 29, 2004) and April 23-Late June, 2004). McChrystal then backtracked only when he learned that then-President Bush was about to quote from the misleading silver star citation in a speech. The US Army later overruled the Pentagon inspector general’s recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for his actions. [Washington Post, 8/4/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Task Force 121, Robert M. Gates, Task Force 626, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Rodriguez, Obama administration, Camp Nama, David D. McKiernan, Human Rights Watch, Joint Special Operations Command, Michael Mullen, Pat Tillman, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Former Vice President Dick Cheney praises President Obama’s choice of Stanley McChrystal to replace General David McKiernan as the top commander in Afghanistan. In an interview with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto, Cheney says that the Obama administration’s decision to assign Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal the top job in Afghanistan is a good one. “I think the choice is excellent.… Stan is an absolutely outstanding officer,” Cheney tells Cavuto. “I think you would be hard put to find anybody better than Stan McChrystal to take on that assignment.” [Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox News, 5/13/2009] In a 2006 profile of McChrystal, Newsweek noted that the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which McChrystal then headed, was likely part of what Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006]
Mary and Pat Tillman Sr. in 2002 at a halftime ceremony held during an Arizona Cardinals game in honor of their son. [Source: Associated Press]Mary Tillman, mother of Ranger Pat Tillman (see May 23-June 1, 2002), a former NFL star killed under disputed circumstances in Afghanistan in 2002 (see April 23, 2004), sends a one-sentence email to the Associated Press: “It is imperative that General [Stanley] McChrystal be scrutinized carefully during the Senate hearings.” McChrystal, once a ‘black ops’ Special Forces chief, is to head up the war in Afghanistan, replacing fired General David McKiernan.
Due for Confirmation, McChrystal Participated in Tillman Death Cover-Up - On April 29, 2004, McChrystal, then a lieutenant general, urged top generals to warn “our nation’s leaders,” particularly the president, not to refer to “the devastating enemy fire” story cited in paperwork he had already approved to award Tillman the Silver Star (see April 29, 2004) posthumously. He wrote that it was “highly possible” Tillman’s death was due to friendly fire. [USA Today, 5/13/2009]
Pentagon Wanted McCrystal Punished, but Senate Voted to Promote - When these facts regarding McCrystal’s role in the Pentagon’s suppression of the truth about the circumstances of Tillman’s death became known in 2007, the Pentagon wanted him to be sanctioned. However, in 2008, the Senate overwhelmingly voted for his promotion from a two-star to a three-star general.
Father Accuses McChrystal of Being on Board with Deception - In an interview with the Associated Press, Tillman’s father, Pat Sr., says that McChrystal had joined a “falsified” investigation into criminal conduct in an earlier Army probe. McChrystal’s confirmation process is slated to be finalized in late June. [USA Today, 5/13/2009]
Stanley McChrystal, nominated to lead US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, directs the transfer of a large area of the National Military Command Center—the Pentagon’s principal underground command and control center and emergency operations facility—to the Afghan war effort. This indicates that McChrystal is at work even before his official confirmation to the top war post. McChrystal’s pre-confirmation activity is corroborated by an account by analyst Mark Perry, who will later report that McChrystal and staff arrive in Kabul within days of his nomination as top commander to assess the case for sending more troops (see Between May 12 and June 10, 2009). [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
Stanley McChrystal arrives in Kabul with teams of counterinsurgency staff within days of his nomination to replace General David McKiernan (see May 11, 2009) as top commander in Afghanistan. Military and foreign policy analyst Mark Perry will later report that McChrystal “commandeers” McKiernan’s headquarters on arrival in Kabul. McChrystal’s teams then fan out all over the country to assess the need for a large increase in US troops to fight a strengthening insurgency. “They absolutely flooded the zone,” a US development officer will tell Perry. “There must have been hundreds of them. They were in every province, every village, talking to everyone. There were 10 of them for every one of us.” Perry will also cite a White House official who asserts that McChrystal and his team use the period before his official confirmation to the top post to begin building a case for more US troops. “From the minute that McChrystal showed up in Kabul, he drove the debate,” the White House official will say. “You’ll notice—from May on it was no longer a question of whether we should follow a military strategy or deploy additional troops. It was always, ‘should we do 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000, or even 80,000’? We weren’t searching for the right strategy; we were searching for the right number.” [Asia Times, 12/10/2009]
The Pentagon gives Stanley McChrystal, nominated to become commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan, unprecedented leeway to handpick his top staff, according to nearly a dozen senior military officers who provide details about McChrystal’s plans to the New York Times. According to the Times report, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has personally told McChrystal that “he could have his pick from the Joint Staff.” McChrystal chooses several veterans of Special Operations, including former colleagues now serving with the Joint Staff, to join his inner circle. He is ultimately assembling a corps of 400 officers and soldiers who will rotate between the United States and Afghanistan for a minimum of three years (see October 7, 2009), a rare military commitment to one theater of combat which is common to Special Operations.
Special Operations Vets Chosen for Inner Circle - McChrystal chooses friend and former Army Ranger colleague Lieutenant General David M. Rodriguez to be his deputy, marking the first time an American commander in Afghanistan will have a three-star second in command. Rodriguez will be in charge of running day-to-day combat operations. McChrystal picks a senior intelligence adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Major General Michael T. Flynn, to join him in Kabul as director of intelligence. General Flynn was McChrystal’s chief of intelligence when he headed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). McChrystal selects Brigadier General Scott Miller to organize a new Pakistan-Afghanistan coordination cell. Miller is a longtime Special Operations officer assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has served previously under McChrystal. [New York Times, 6/10/2009; Wall Street Journal, 6/12/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his administration is investigating numerous reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the northern provinces of the country amid increasing militancy in the area. At a press conference, Karzai says that his government has received information over the last five months from local residents and officials indicating that unmarked helicopters have been ferrying militants to Baghlan, Kunduz, and Samangan provinces, and have been air-dropping them at night. “Even today we received reports that the furtive process is still ongoing,” he tells journalists, though he does not share any evidence, arguing that the issue is too sensitive. Karzai adds that authorities have received similar reports in the northwest as well, and that a comprehensive investigation is underway to determine which country the helicopters belonged to, why armed men are being snuck into the region, and whether increasing insecurity in the north is linked to this. “I hope in the near future we will find out who these helicopters belong to,” he says. [Ferghana Information Agency, 10/12/2009; Press TV, 10/12/2009; Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10/12/2009] Western officials will later deny there is any truth to the reports (see October 14 - 29, 2009). The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) notes that helicopters are almost entirely the exclusive domain of foreign forces in Afghanistan; NATO forces control Afghanistan’s air space and have a monopoly on aircraft. IWPR reports that Afghans believe the insurgency is being deliberately moved north, with international troops transporting fighters in from the volatile south to create mayhem in new locations. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] The International Council on Security and Development has reported a dramatic rise in Taliban presence and activity in the formerly peaceful north in recent months (see Between January and September 2009), coinciding with the helicopter reports. The Asia Times reports that the Taliban now have complete control over several districts in the northern province of Kunduz. [Asia Times, 10/16/2009]
Who Are the Militants? - The majority of reports cite eyewitnesses who claim the militants are Taliban. In Kunduz province, northern Afghanistan, a soldier from the 209th Shahin Corps of the Afghan National Army tells of an incident in which helicopters intervened to rescue Taliban during a battle. “Just when the police and army managed to surround the Taliban in a village of Qala-e-Zaal district, we saw helicopters land with support teams,” he says. “They managed to rescue their friends from our encirclement, and even to inflict defeat on the Afghan National Army.” Residents in a district of Baghlan province also witness a battle in which they insist that two foreign helicopters offload Taliban fighters who then attack their district center. “I saw the helicopters with my own eyes,” says Sayed Rafiq of Baghlan-e-Markazi. “They landed near the foothills and offloaded dozens of Taliban with turbans, and wrapped in patus [a blanket-type shawl].” According to numerous media reports, the district police chief along with the head of counter-narcotics and a number of soldiers are killed in the attack. The governor of Baghlan-e-Markazi, Commander Amir Gul, insists that the Taliban fighters are delivered by helicopter. “I do not know to which country the helicopters belonged,” he tells the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. “But these are the same helicopters that are taking the Taliban from Helmand to Kandahar and from there to the north, especially to Baghlan.” According to Gul, the district department of the National Security Directorate has identified the choppers, but refuses to comment. Baghlan police chief, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, says that his department has reported to Kabul that foreign helicopters are transporting the Taliban into Baghlan. Baghlan provincial governor, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, tells a news conference that his intelligence and security services have discovered that unidentified helicopters have been landing at night in some parts of the province. “We are investigating,” he says. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] Other officials say the militants are not only Taliban. The provincial governor of Kunduz claims the fighters being transported are members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Sanobar Shermatova, a Moscow-based Central Asia analyst, writes that the IMU likely comprises the bulk of Taliban-allied militants moving into northern Afghanistan. [Eurasianet, 10/13/2009; Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 11/6/2009] Afghan Lower House representative, Ms. Najia Aimaq, quotes Interior Ministry authorities who say that helicopters are transporting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s men to the northern provinces to fight the Taliban. [Nukhost Daily via UNAMA, 10/14/2009]
Who Is Providing the Air Transport? - Unconfirmed reports are circulating that the helicopters are American, according to Iran’s Press TV. [Press TV, 10/12/2009] McClatchy suggests that although Karzai does not say which nations he suspects are providing the helicopters, his remarks stir speculation that the US is somehow involved. However, a Karzai campaign staffer will later clarify that Karzai does not mean to imply the helicopters are American (see October 14 - 29, 2009). “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. [McClatchy, 10/14/2009] Afghan political analyst Ghulam Haidar Haidar asserts that foreign forces led by the US are behind the increasing instability in Kunduz and that coalition forces are training and equipping the insurgents in order to spread insecurity to Central Asia. “The United States wants a base from which to threaten Russia,” he says. An unnamed resident from Chahr Dara district echoes Haidar’s analysis, insisting that the Taliban are being supported by the US. “I saw it with my own eyes,” he says. “I was bringing my cattle home in the evening, and I saw Taliban getting off American helicopters. They were also unloading motorcycles from these aircraft. Later, a local mullah whom I know very well went to talk to the Americans, and then the helicopter left.” [Asia Times, 10/16/2009] Press TV will later cite unnamed diplomats who say the British army has been relocating Taliban insurgents from southern Afghanistan to the north via its Chinook helicopters. [Press TV, 10/17/2009] According to Rahim Rahimi, a professor at Balkh University, both America and Britain are trying to undermine security in Afghanistan to justify the need for foreign forces. “They will try and destabilize the north any way they can,” he says. “It is a good excuse to expand their presence in the area, to get a grip on the gas and oil in Central Asia.” [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009]
Entity Tags: North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Sanobar Shermatova, Rahim Rahimi, Taliban, Stanley A. McChrystal, Najia Aimaq, Sayed Rafiq, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Moen Marastyal, Afghan National Security Forces, Amir Gul, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, Ghulam Haidar Haidar, International Security Assistance Force, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hamid Karzai
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) sends 1,000 more Special Operations forces and support staff into Afghanistan, military sources tell Fox News contributor and conservative author Rowan Scarborough. A spokesman at SOCOM confirms this will bring the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces in Afghanistan to about 5,000. The movement of forces comes as Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal is awaiting Senate confirmation to take command in Afghanistan. McChrystal is expected to put more emphasis on using Special Forces and black operations for counterinsurgency, man hunting, capture, and assassination operations.
Revamping Special Operations Afghanistan - SOCOM has also been revamping the command structure and the way commandos operate in Afghanistan. Military sources say Brigadier General Ed Reeder, who heads the new Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command in Afghanistan, has changed the way Green Beret “A” Teams, Delta Force, and other special operators conduct counterinsurgency. Reeder’s new secret command combines the more open Green Berets and Marine commandos with secret Delta Force and Navy SEAL units that conduct manhunts. The covert side works in task forces identified by a secret three-digit number, and is aided by Army Rangers and a Joint Interagency Task Force made up of the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, and other intelligence units. [Fox News, 6/5/2009]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta, Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command, Central Intelligence Agency, Ed Reeder, Green Berets, Navy Seals, US Army Rangers, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Defense, US Special Operations Command, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen calls Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) to press for Stanley McChrystal’s speedy confirmation as the new top commander in Afghanistan. Mullen stresses that it is a matter of urgency that McChrystal be able to depart for Afghanistan this very night. According to Reid, Admiral Mullen says that “McChrystal is literally waiting by an airplane” to leave. Later on the Senate floor during the confirmation proceedings, Reid will tell of the call from Mullen in an impassioned plea for McChrystal’s speedy confirmation (see June 10, 2009). [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
The US Senate unanimously approves Stanley McChrystal’s appointment as the next commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan. The Senate also approves his promotion to four-star general. [Associated Press, 6/10/2009] The New York Times reports that in order to prevent any delay in McChrystal’s confirmation, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) makes an impassioned plea for a swift yes vote on the Senate floor, telling of a phone call he received from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen in which Mullen told him that it was urgent that McChrystal be able to go to Afghanistan that very night (see Early June 10, 2009). McChrystal and senior members of his command team are reportedly scheduled to fly from Washington within hours of the Senate vote confirming his appointment, with two stops planned in Europe to confer with allies before landing in Kabul. [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
General Stanley McChrystal, commander of military forces in Afghanistan, pushes successfully for the installment of his personal choice to head the CIA station in Kabul after Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan, objects to the CIA’s original choice for the post. ABC News will report that after the CIA withdraws its preferred candidate due to Holbrooke’s objection, McChrystal successfully pressures it to appoint the official he has in mind, who is known only as “Spider.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2010] According to ABC, Spider is a friend and career paramilitary operative with prior experience in an elite Marine commando unit and as the CIA’s liaison to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at a time when JSOC was headed by McChrystal. ABC notes that Spider previously served as CIA station chief in Kabul sometime in the middle of the decade (see (June 2004)). A spokesperson for Holbrooke will later deny his involvement in the decision. CIA spokesman George Little will also deny that Holbrooke or McChrystal had any involvement in the agency’s decision.
Intelligence Officers Fear CIA Subordinate to the Military - Current and former intelligence officials will later tell ABC that the CIA’s capitulation to McChrystal and Holbrooke indicates a waning of its influence in Afghanistan. “McChrystal can have anyone he wants running the CIA station,” says a former senior intelligence official and Pentagon consultant. The officials fear the episode is proof that the CIA has become subordinate to the military in shaping strategy and relegated to an historically unprecedented supporting role. “The CIA is supposed to be a check on the military and their intelligence, not their hand maiden,” adds former CIA agent Robert Baer. “This is a sign of things to come, where the military dominates intelligence.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010]
Militarization of the CIA and a Special Forces Surge - Soon after McChrystal is tapped to become the new commander, he leads an effort to increase the role of Special Forces in intelligence and operations which coincides with increased militarization of the CIA in Afghanistan. Within months, the CIA will expand its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence (see September 2009). According to one current intelligence official, the CIA has roughly 800 personnel in Afghanistan. [ABC News, 2/19/2010] In June, just ahead of McChrystal’s confirmation, the Pentagon sends 1,000 additional Special Operations personnel to Afghanistan, raising the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces there to about 5,000 (see June 5, 2009).
Thousands of US Marines launch Operation Khanjar (“Strike of the Sword”) in a campaign to assert control in the lower Helmand River valley, a stronghold of the Taliban and other insurgent groups and center of the world’s largest opium poppy producing region. Nearly 4,000 Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) are deployed in the offensive, which is being called one of the biggest operations conducted by foreign troops in Afghanistan since the 1989 Soviet withdrawal. Approximately 650 Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces also participate in the mission. An adjacent operation called “Panther Claw” initiated by British-led Task Force Helmand has been under way in northern Helmand for a week. Operation Khanjar marks the beginning of a new effort by the US and its allies to assert control in Afghanistan since the arrival of commander General Stanley McChrystal, as well as the first major initiative under the Obama administration’s troop increase and counterinsurgency strategy, which it says is intended to secure and stabilize the country. US commanders say the operation is part of an effort to restore the authority of local government and security forces in Helmand and to secure the region for the presidential elections scheduled for August. “What makes Operation Khanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build, and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” says Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of the MEB in Afghanistan. US Forces reportedly meet with very little direct resistance as insurgents blend into the local population and prepare for later attacks. [Reuters, 7/2/2009; Marines.mil, 7/2/2009]
US military leaflet dispersed to villages in Paktika and Ghazni provinces, Afghanistan. [Source: CBS]The US military blankets at least two southeastern Afghan villages with leaflets made at Bagram Air Base that threaten to “target” villagers with aggressive measures if a US soldier who was kidnapped by the Taliban in the area is not freed. Villagers tell CBS News that aircraft drop the leaflets over a period of several days, and that the papers are found stuck in trees and scattered on rooftops. One side of the leaflet shows a US soldier with his head bowed and the message, “If you do not free the American soldier, then…” The message continues on the other side: “… you will be targeted” (or “hunted,” according to one translation) over an image of Western troops kicking down a door to break into a house. Military spokeswoman Captain Elizabeth Mathias later confirms that the leaflets are produced at Bagram Air Base and distributed in the region. She will contradict the villagers’ account, however, saying they were distributed by hand, not by aircraft. Mathias then explains that another, non-threatening leaflet was dropped from aircraft in the region. This leaflet informs locals that a US soldier is missing and requests information on his whereabouts. Mathias’ colleague, Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker, says no threats were made in this air-dropped leaflet, which, according to the US military’s translation, reads: “One of our American guests is missing. Return the guest to his home.” The leaflet includes a phone number and shows a US soldier sitting among smiling Afghan children. Taliban commander Mawlavi Sangin tells Reuters that US forces have been harassing Afghans in Paktika and Ghazni provinces over the kidnapping. “They have put pressure on the people in these two provinces and if that does not stop we will kill [the kidnapped US soldier],” Sangin says by telephone. [CBS News, 7/16/2009; Reuters, 7/16/2009]
Winning over and Protecting the Local Population? - The US military launched a major operation in the southern province of Helmand on July 2 (see Early Morning July 2, 2009) under US President Obama’s recent troop escalation and counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan that new US commander Stanley McChrystal has said is intended, in part, to “win over” and protect the Afghan people. “At the end of the day, you’re fighting for the population, not with the population or against the population,” McChrystal tells the New York Times. [New York Times, 7/15/2009]
Stanley Karnow, seated, in Washington, paying respect to the first American causalities killed in Vietnam. July 8, 2009. [Source: Chase Martinez / Washington Times, via AP]Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy to Afghanistan, and Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, telephone Stanley Karnow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam War historian to discuss the similarities between the two American wars and to seek guidance from the eminent scholar. Holbrooke will later confirm that the three men conferred on the two wars. “We discussed the two situations and what to do,” he will say during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels. Karnow, an acknowledged critic of the war in Afghanistan, will also confirm that the discussion was held. “Holbrooke rang me from Kabul and passed the phone to the general,” says Karnow, who authored the 1983 book, Vietnam: A History. He does not, however, elaborate on the specifics of the conversation. The telephone call is made in the context of a reevaluation of American strategy in Afghanistan amidst an escalation in spending, troops, and casualties. President Obama has tasked General McChrystal to conduct a strategic review of the increasingly criticized and unpopular war.
Comparing Ngo Dinh Diem and Hamid Karzai - Among the issues voiced by scholars and analysts who draw their own analogies between the Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan is the credibility of President Hamid Karzai’s government, which is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency specialist who the Associated Press reports will soon assume a role as a senior adviser to McChrystal, compares Karzai to former South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. “[Karzai] has a reasonably clean personal reputation but he’s seen as ineffective; his family are corrupt; he’s alienated a very substantial portion of the population,” Kilcullen says. “He seems paranoid and delusional and out of touch with reality,” he continues. “That’s all the sort of things that were said about President Diem in 1963.” Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a US-backed coup in 1963 (see November 1963).
Comparing the 1967 Vietnam Ballot and the 2009 Afghanistan Ballot - The Associated Press quotes other analysts who draw parallels between Afghanistan’s presidential election schedule for August 20 and the failed US effort in Vietnam to legitimize a military regime lacking broad popular support through an imposed presidential election in 1967. James McAllister, a political science professor who has written extensively on Vietnam, recognizes why US policy chiefs are looking to the Vietnam War for parallels and lessons, especially with regard to the presidential elections. “That [1967 ballot] helped ensure that US efforts would continue to be compromised by its support for a corrupt, unpopular regime in Saigon,” McAllister says. Rufus Phillips, Holbrooke’s former boss in Vietnam and author of the book Why Vietnam Matters, echoes this warning. “The rigged election in South Vietnam proved [to be] the most destructive and destabilizing factor of all,” says Phillips, now in Kabul helping to monitor the upcoming election.
Karnow: Lessons We Learned from Vietnam and What to Expect in Afghanistan - “It now seems unthinkable that the US could lose [in Afghanistan], but that’s what experts… thought in Vietnam in 1967,” Karnow will say later, from his home in Maryland. “It could be that there will be no real conclusion and that it will go on for a long time until the American public grows tired of it.” When asked what lessons could be drawn from the Vietnam experience, Karnow will tell the Associated Press: “What did we learn from Vietnam? We learned that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Obama and everybody else seem to want to be in Afghanistan, but not I.” [Associated Press, 8/6/2009]
US officials reveal that the CIA is expanding its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan as part of a larger intelligence “surge” led by the Pentagon, in which its station is expected to rival the size of the massive CIA stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars. A Los Angeles Times report outlines a distinctly militarized CIA role in Afghanistan, with enhanced paramilitary capacity to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence. Among other things, the escalation in covert operations reportedly aims to collect information on Afghan officials involved in the drug trade and increase targeted raids to counter an increasingly effective insurgency. Interestingly, one US intelligence official tells the Los Angeles Times that the spy agencies “anticipated the surge in demand for intelligence” in Afghanistan.
Militarized CIA Role to Support Pentagon - The Los Angeles Times reports that the CIA is preparing to deploy Crisis Operations Liaison Teams—small paramilitary units that are attached to regional military commands—to give the military access to information gathered by the CIA and other sources, while General Stanley McChrystal, commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, is expanding the use of teams known for raids and assassinations that combine CIA operatives with Special Operations commandos. These developments are in line with Pentagon programs established this year (see August 26, 2009 and October 7, 2009) to integrate military and civilian spy operations and develop intelligence capabilities dedicated to Afghanistan and Pakistan for the long term. Furthermore, the CIA’s Afghanistan station, based at the US Embassy in Kabul, is now headed by an operative with an extensive background in paramilitary operations, according to US officials. The Times notes that most CIA operatives in the country have been deployed to secret bases and scattered military outposts, with the largest concentration of CIA personnel at Bagram Air Base, headquarters for US Special Operations forces and the site of a secret agency prison.
Operatives to Trace Ties between Drug Kingpins and Corrupt Officials - Officials say that the spies are being used in various assignments, from teaming up with Special Forces units pursuing high-value targets and tracking public sentiment in provinces that have been shifting toward the Taliban, to collecting intelligence on drug-related corruption in the Afghan government. The Times notes that US spy agencies have already increased their scrutiny of corruption in Kabul, citing a recent Senate report that described a wiretapping system activated last year aimed at tracing ties between government officials and drug kingpins in the country. [US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 8/10/2009; Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2009]
Following a reassessment by top US Army Allied Commander General Stanley A. McChrystal, and on the advice of Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, President Obama reconsiders the military endeavor that might modify US strategy in Afghanistan. The result is a scaling back of political and economic development reforms in the strife-torn zone. During recent television news program appearances, Obama seemed to question the primary assertion that the current US approach is the proper means for achieving the US goal of hunting down al-Qaeda and its close allies.
Scaling Back Military Operations - In what White House officials call a “strategic assessment,” Obama seems to be favoring scaled-down attacks utilizing small Special Operations teams and armed Predator drones, thus averting the need for additional troops, according to US officials and experts. The renewed debate is said to have shocked some, while leaving military officials scrambling to estimate how drastic the changes could be. The shift in the White House position is said to have also come about after Obama ordered 21,000 additional US troops to help with last month’s Afghan national election, a ballot broadly seen as counterfeit. However, Obama has also questioned McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy, asking whether it is worth committing extra troops. Reports indicate that the administration might opt for a narrower objective that primarily focuses on disrupting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups, a strategy that would require fewer than the 68,000 troops presently approved for the war. During a recent appearance on CNN, Obama asked, “Are we pursuing the right strategy?” while on NBC’s Meet the Press, he stated he would only expand the counterinsurgency endeavor if it aided the goal of defeating al-Qaeda. “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan… or sending a message that America is here for the duration,” Obama said. It is unclear how many additional troops McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy would require, and the dissenting view advocating a more limited Afghanistan mission not only has been strengthened by Afghan election irregularities but also growing doubts about the war among Congressional Democrats as well as the US citizenry.
'Buyer's Remorse' - During a recent meeting with the Canadian prime minister, Obama signaled that a deeper administration review was in progress. “It’s important that we also do an assessment on the civilian side, the diplomatic side, the development side, that we analyze the results of the election and then make further decisions moving forward,” he said. A defense analyst and regular military adviser speaking on condition of anonymity says the Obama administration is suffering from “buyer’s remorse for this war.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/22/2009]
US Special Operations and CIA paramilitary forces more than quadruple the number of clandestine kill or capture raids they carry out in Afghanistan. The secret teams carry out 90 raids in November as compared to 20 in May, according to US officials. The Los Angeles Times reports that top commander General Stanley McChrystal orders the change in US military strategy, which intensifies Special Operations missions and shifts away from hunting al-Qaeda leaders to targeting mid-level Taliban commanders. Black operations teams involved in the missions reportedly include the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy SEALs’ Team Six, working together with CIA paramilitary units. [Los Angeles Times, 12/16/2009] These special units fall under the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a secretive structure formerly headed by McChrystal (see May 11, 2009).
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