Because that’s the deal here: if Stanley McChrystal is confirmed as the replacement for David McKiernan as the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, his theatre title will be COMISAF, for Commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, which comprises troops from all donor states including Canada. So Barack Obama just changed our military commander in Afghanistan. Over to Fred Kaplan, who explains why “this is a very big deal,” describes the rift in military doctrine that put McChrystal and McKiernan on opposite sides, and hints at what will certainly be controversy over McChrystal’s background in Special Ops. Afghanistan is now Obama’s war, and ours with it, win or lose.
UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal earns its strong circulation performance when it produces reporting like this piece, which lays out the stakes for McKiernan — “probably” the end of his career; the historical precedent — “This is the first time since MacArthur was called back during the Korean War that a four-star commanding general was relieved in the middle of a war;” adds lots of background on McChrystal’s military career and introduces a secondary figure, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who’ll be the top guy’s wing man in charge of all U.S. troops in theatre; includes this cool quote: “When you have guys of the caliber of McChrystal and Rodriguez on the bench and rested, you need to get them into the fight;” attributes the whole strategy to Gates; and reminds us that when McKiernan asked for a far larger surge, it was Gates who publicly explained why that might not be such a good idea.
When Stephen Harper was in Kandahar last week, Gates was there too. Neither country had told the other about the high-value visitor it had in theatre. Reports tonight say Gates was in Afghanistan uniquely to deliver McKiernan’s walking papers. The war changed today, if anything can change the war.