June 25th, 2010
12:56 PM ET

Opinion: How will McChrystal's exit impact Kandahar, Karzai?

Khalil Nouri is the co-founder of New World Strategies Coalition Inc., a native Afghan think tank for nonmilitary solution studies for Afghanistan. The statements and opinions expressed in this guest blog are solely those of Khalil Nouri. 

There is no doubt that the controversy around and resulting exit of Gen. Stanley McChrystal is a huge distraction to the impending campaign in Kandahar. The fallout could alter the course of the difficult war by significantly redefining the shape, form and function of the entire effort in Afghanistan.  

The replacement of McChrystal is a major blow to the already slow-moving counterinsurgency operation in Kandahar, where the prospect for success throughout Afghanistan hinges upon success in the Pashtun heartland city that cradled the Taliban more than a decade ago.

McChrystal enjoyed the closest relationship of any American official with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai was in support of McChrystal’s continued service as the top general to lead the NATO operation in his country. 

With McChrystal’s removal, Karzai’s mental state could become even more fragile because his sense of isolation from U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, State Department envoy Richard Holbrooke and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates could increase.

Any revision to the current plan may lead to other developments - a policy change could alter dynamics in Kandahar that place Karzai’s tribe in a position to dominate other tribes in the region. A new doctrine could break the tribal dominance the Karzai family has over Kandahar.   

McChrystal had been walking a fine line in dealing with Karzai and power brokers in Kandahar. Whatever the case, there were some strong value-added influences that Karzai needed from McChrystal to keep his allegedly corrupt family afloat and in power.     

How will the Karzai family behave now that McChrystal is gone?

If McChrystal had carried on with his job, undoubtedly, some fences would have needed mending with his close colleagues, Holbrooke and Eikenberry. He also would have had to work hard to repair his relationships with civilian leaders. His relationship with them already had turned sour due to the many disagreements over the war effort.

Due to the July 2011 troop withdrawal date, McChrystal had a limited window to make his counterinsurgency campaign a workable one and to win the hearts and minds of ordinary folks on the ground. But with the severity of the tribal imbalance and rampant opium cultivation, it wouldn’t have been an easy task for him.

Because of this recent brouhaha, the Obama administration, in essence, was forced to have a policy review much earlier than the scheduled one in December. The current policy and the current policy creator have both come under early review. 

Unfortunately, McChrystal allowed a culture of arrogance and contempt for the civilian leadership to emerge within his staff, which - whether in peacetime or in war - is unacceptable in any military structure.

The war cannot be prosecuted successfully if there isn’t mutual trust and respect between the president and his general on the ground. And that officer cannot advise his upper chain of command effectively if he does not defer to that chain of command himself.

The fundamental issue here is that the military in Afghanistan is under enormous pressure and stress. This war is the toughest war in a post-World War II era. The so-called “graveyard of empires” cannot be dealt with by cutting corners or making snap judgments based on media exposure alone.

If I had Obama’s ear, I would have told him a fallen wheel in a vehicle will not make the vehicle run, no matter who the driver is. So, even though you may have replaced McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus, the decision will not change the dynamics of the war.

Unless, a new policy review is conducted, native Afghan thinkers and policymakers within the Afghan-American community can really help in this effort. They have family ties to all of the players on the ground and can go where no other Americans can go.

Photo at top: U.S. soldiers carry a wounded Afghan National Army soldier to a MedEvac helicopter in Kandahar.

Filed under: Kandahar • Karzai • McChrystal
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