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Sympathy for McKiernan Among Officers

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

News of the abrupt removal yesterday of Gen. David D. McKiernan from his command in Afghanistan generated some dismay in Army circles, although U.S. military officers and analysts voiced strong support for his likely replacement.

Sympathy ran high for McKiernan among Army officers because, they said, the relative shortage of U.S. troops in Afghanistan had tied his hands in combating a deepening insurgency.

McKiernan "was running a very under-resourced theater and doing as well as anyone could expect," said one senior officer. This officer and others would discuss their views only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the record.

Moreover, officers said, McKiernan, who was admired as a solid commander and one with integrity, did not deserve to have his career ended by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates requesting his resignation.

"I am disappointed for General McKiernan to go out this way," the officer said. "I don't think that this sort of an ending to his career is fair."

Nevertheless, officers and analysts acknowledged that McKiernan might not possess the extraordinary skills required for the challenges posed by Afghanistan.

"Basically, McKiernan did a good job, but they need someone that they think can do an excellent job," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution. "In normal times, that would not be reason enough to relieve a four-star [general]. But, of course, these aren't ordinary times."

Gates's selection of Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff, as his recommended replacement for McKiernan, was well received in Army circles, as was the tapping of Gates's military assistant, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, as McChrystal's deputy. "You could not find two better combat commanders than McChrystal and Rodriguez," said one senior Army officer.

-- Ann Scott Tyson

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