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Obama's War

Obama's War

Combating Extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan | Full Coverage

Correction to This Article
This article about the relationship between Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, and Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, incorrectly said that Eikenberry was a predecessor to McChrystal as NATO commander in Afghanistan. Eikenberry headed Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan, a U.S.-led coalition. Unlike McChrystal, he did not oversee NATO-led forces.
GENERAL McChrystal & Ambassador Eikenberry

Tensions between Eikenberry, McChrystal will be focus of their Washington visit

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By Joshua Partlow
Sunday, May 9, 2010

They are both decorated generals, West Point graduates who studied at Harvard University and earnest taskmasters who would rather work than sleep.

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The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl W. Eikenberry, and the top U.S. military commander there, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, assumed their posts amid lofty expectations that they could re-create the hand-in-glove partnership that Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker had while leading the war effort in Iraq.

But the Eikenberry-and-McChrystal team that returns to Washington this week, alongside Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has a much different dynamic.

Both men said in interviews that they enjoy a productive relationship and have built stronger bonds between troops and civilians across Afghanistan. Still, they have had significant disagreements over the course of the Afghanistan war and have struggled to align their visions for how to work with Karzai's government, according to interviews with U.S., NATO and Afghan officials.

Few critics suggest that those differences have harmed U.S. interests in Afghanistan. People who have worked with both men said, however, that clear tensions exist at the top of the Obama administration's most important military and foreign policy endeavor.

At times their differences over strategy have been public, particularly after two of Eikenberry's cables to Washington last year were leaked to the news media. The cables warned that McChrystal's request for new troops might be counterproductive as Karzai was "not an adequate strategic partner." McChrystal's staff members were particularly upset that they weren't made aware of Eikenberry's position before he sent the cables to Washington, they said in interviews.

Eikenberry has resisted some of McChrystal's wartime experiments. The ambassador refused to release funds to expand a military effort to turn villagers into armed guards. He opposed one Army brigade's plan to form an anti-Taliban alliance with a Pashtun tribe and funnel it development money. He criticized the military's proposal to buy generators and diesel fuel for the energy-starved city of Kandahar and supported a longer-term hydroelectric dam project.

Their views have diverged despite shared experience: Eikenberry served 18 months as the NATO commander in Afghanistan, the job McChrystal now holds, before retiring from the military and returning as ambassador. As McChrystal has overhauled the war strategy, some of the legacy he is undoing is Eikenberry's.

Eikenberry wanted to become NATO's senior civilian representative, in addition to his job as ambassador, but McChrystal recommended against it, according to diplomats in Kabul. A British diplomat, Mark Sedwill, got the job.

"You have two generals of similar rank who don't agree on the policy, who apparently don't like each other. It makes for a difficult relationship," said Peter W. Galbraith, who served as the top U.S. official in the United Nations' mission to Afghanistan during last year's contested presidential election.

Both men have tried to dispel notions that they disagree on strategy and don't get along.

"The best metaphor I can give you is of an athletic team," Eikenberry said. "We play different positions. We have different but complementary roles. Of course, sometimes we're going to disagree on what's the best play to call, but we're absolutely committed as teammates to see the president's strategy is well-executed."


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