Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My Share Of The Task: A Memoir By Retired General Stanley McChrystal

Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps colonel, wrote an interesting review of retired General Stanley McChrystal's book, My Share of the Task: A Memoir and Fred Kaplan's The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot To Change the American Way of War.

The review appeared in the Washington Times. 

Counterterrorism (CT in military argot) and counterinsurgency (COIN) are two very different things that are sometimes used interchangeably by politicians and journalists not familiar with the national security community’s often confusing tribal language. CT is killing or capturing terrorists and breaking up their networks. COIN is an attempt to wean a local population away from insurgents and to convince those people to support, or at least tolerate, their own government. Each requires different skill sets, and both are things that a host nation should do once it is able. That is not always possible in the early stage of the conflict; and this was the case in Afghanistan and Iraq, albeit for different reasons. The two books that this review addresses are about men who mastered each of these skills in Iraq, but who found Afghanistan a much more difficult challenge.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s book, “My Share of the Task,” is an autobiography. For most of his career, the author was a fairly conventional soldier, but he had shown an early interest in unconventional operations. As a qualified airborne officer, and a graduate of the Army’s Ranger Course, he sought out a chance to gain an assignment in the elite Ranger Regiment, and eventually was assigned to the even more elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) counterterrorist force, which he rose to command. In Iraq, he wore two hats as commander of JSOC and its Iraqi Manifestation, TF 714. As the counterterrorist commander in Iraq, he transformed his unit from a team of rivals into a network that combined intelligence with direct capture-kill operations and was responsible for the eventual capture of Saddam Hussein and the elimination of the notorious Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

On The Insurgents, Anderson writes:

It’s a warts-and-all account of how people like Gen. Petraeus, Lt. Col. John Nagl, Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster and others strove to get the Army to readopt counterinsurgency doctrine, which the Army had dropped like a hot potato after the debacle of Vietnam. They succeeded in doing so in Iraq, but suffered a setback in Afghanistan. Here, both books converge.

Gen. McChrystal took over the war in Afghanistan when Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates fired his predecessor. He moved from CT to COIN, and the move from the largely tactical level of war to the realm of strategy was not smooth. However, Gen. McChrystal was smart enough to know that he was in a dogfight. He describes Americans dealing with Afghans as akin to high school students walking into a Mafia bar. I always had that feeling in my meetings with Afghans, but lack the general’s gift of metaphor to express it.

When Gen. McChrystal was, in turn, forced to resign over remarks that his staff made to a disingenuous Rolling Stone reporter, Gen. Petraeus took a demotion to replace him. Like all of us who had success in Iraq, Gen. Petraeus found Afghanistan to be a much harder slog. When he left after a year, he had made progress, but not as much as he would have liked.

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:

Note: General Stanley McChrystal appears in the above DOD photo.

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