Over There

U.S. troops express mixed views of Gen. McChrystal controversy

President Obama removes McChrystal as commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan on Wednesday after remarks he made in a magazine interview about top administration officials.
By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 24, 2010

KABUL -- Among U.S. troops, opinion was split Wednesday into three camps: those who were rooting for Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, those who were eager to see him ousted, and those who were too deep in the trenches to follow the scandal.

"We have too many things going on here," said 1st. Lt. James Rathmann, a platoon leader deployed in Kandahar. "As a soldier, you just follow orders."

The Internet had been shut down temporarily at Rathmann's base because a soldier had been killed. His men had heard snippets about a magazine story and a brewing scandal. But the frenzy in Washington was an afterthought for many of the troops on the front lines of a worsening conflict.

"I don't really know what's going on," said Rathmann, 31. "I heard he had to go to Washington?"

Those who rallied around the embattled general called his candor refreshing and his acumen indisputable. On Facebook, fans created pages urging McChrystal to run for president in 2012. Users, many of them troops, posted hundreds of comments on pages dedicated to the general.

"Gen. McChrystal has tried to take the tactful, respectful and appropriate response for months now, to no avail," said a 30-year-old sergeant first class who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 and is scheduled to return next year. "His hands keep getting tied. . . . He's the one that gets blamed by the families and the troops when we suffer more casualties. But the ones who should bear that burden are the people in D.C. who make the decisions about our actions."

Like other troops, the sergeant, who is on active duty, spoke on the condition of anonymity to remark candidly on a controversy involving senior commanders.

(Read a breakdown of what was said about eight top officials)

Support for the general was far from universal among service members. The Rolling Stone article that led to McChrystal's dismissal gave voice to frustration among troops who feel the general's directives, which sharply curtailed the use of lethal force, had made them more vulnerable.

"He should be fired," said a 23-year-old specialist who recently completed a deployment in Afghanistan. "Today's rules of engagement in Afghanistan is a Taliban weapon that is commonly used against American forces."

As a 30,000-troop surge recommended by McChrystal gets underway, June is shaping up to be the deadliest month for NATO service members since the nearly nine-year-old war began.

On Wednesday, NATO officials announced the death of eight service members, including two killed Tuesday. The deaths raised this month's death toll for the U.S.-led international force to 75, the same number killed last July, which set a record.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company