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Col. Charles D. Allen
Military scholar

Col. Charles D. Allen

Colonel Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, Ret.) is the Professor of Cultural Science in the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management at the U.S. Army War College.

New Strategy, New Leader

The questions about military leadership in support of political goals and strategy are the subject of many blogs and much discussion and debate within our profession. As you look at military history (especially in the U.S.), there is a peacetime Army and then a weeding out and proofing period of leaders during military conflicts. See any work about the early days of the Civil War, WWI, WWII or Korea. Good examples are America's First Battles, 1776-1965 by Heller and Stofft and An Army at Dawn by my friend, Rick Atkinson. You have to build the bench of leaders by developing them under stressful conditions and pick those who can effectively execute the chosen strategy.

We had the similar challenges with Bosnia and Kosovo, with our military making adjustments after the fall of the Soviet Union--hence, the Army transformation efforts of the past 10-plus years.

Some may say the four-star general McKiernan was not qualified for the job in Afghanistan, but that is an extreme and unrealistic assessment. For a more complete understanding, consider the metaphor of sitting down for night of poker. You have to play the cards you are dealt, not only for one hand but for each hand for as long as you are at the table -- even when the dealer changes the game from Texas-Hold'em to Seven-Card Stud. As your strategy changes, so too does the value of your assets. A two-of-hearts may fill out a straight in one hand and may have no use when the four other cards are clubs.

I offer that Gen. McKiernan had experience as the Land Component Commander for the invasion phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom and then as an Army Component Commander while the Commanding General for U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR). It is possible that he was the best-available leader for the past year under the old, NATO-focused strategy, and that he was reasonably successful in that job. But when the game changed from poker to pinochle, we needed a pinochle player who really understood how to play this more sophisticated, nuanced game. Perhaps this was the rationale of Defense Secretary Gates in selecting General McChrystal -- who has experience in counter-insurgency -- to lead the effort in Afghanistan.

The key for military leaders is to beware when the strategic intent and direction from our civilian leaders changes. My colleague, Air Force Colonel Don Dreschler and I discussed this in a recent article, "Why Senior Military Leaders Fail," for the Armed Forces Journal.

By Col. Charles D. Allen

 |  August 25, 2009; 1:19 PM ET
Category:  Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I believe Gen. McChrystal is qualified to do the job.

Marines don't have a monopoly on leadership and good strategic thinking as some who shouts Semper Fi to often would have you to believe when someone else have an opinion on War efforts.

However, whether Marine, Army, Airforce, or Navy, I don't think any leader deserve accolades until they find the backbone to tell the Commander-in-Chief(The President) that a War effort is a mistake.

So, with all due respect, I will give Gen. McChrystal the accolades some thinks he deserves when he tells President Obama that the WAR in Afghanistan is another WAR of Choice like the Iraq War.

And that our nation-the USA- is far from any threat from what the fear mongers would have us to believe. Because the truth of the matter the people of Afghanistan would go back to living as they did when the Soviets left their country.

The conjured up threat from Afghanistan is so that government contractors- like Haliburton, KBR, and others can continue to pilliage the American taxpayers.

If we compared hostile nations or other US adversaries that we are concerned about and how we handle them; every General Officer would be laughed out of the Armed Services for not giving the President the correct assessments and advice on Afghanistan and Iraq.

They are less of a threat than Iran, NK, China, the Soviet Union, or Venzuela and Cuba.

So, I will called Gen. McChrystal and Gen. Petraeus great Commanders when they provides the President with advice and a strategy to end the Occupations and WAR in Afghanistan and save our taxpayer money for our country and keep our American Fathers, Mothers, Sons, Daughters, and other soldiers from dying for an over-rated threat that can be maintain from afar and from the Un-necessary Wars they are.

Posted by: Gods_Voice_Is_Louder | August 27, 2009 12:16 AM
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I too see a light at the end of the tunnel.

A blinking yellow light.

A light at the end of the tunnel.
Victory is at hand.
Protective Hamlets.
Win their hearts and minds.
Search and Destroy
Body Counts
Switch Generals
Bomb Hanoi
Cut off the interdiction routes.
R and R
Whoops, no R and R

Victory is at hand.

There is victory is defeat.
that's alllllll folks!!!

Posted by: jato11 | August 26, 2009 10:58 PM
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Nobody can doubt that Gen. McKiernan is qualified to lead our army in a war. But in a war everyone understands why we are fighting. Now we are in two 'wars' where the rank and file are fighting only for the flag, and the commanders are confused about the reason they are in this to start with.
If America were under an attack, I would prefer McKiernan to be in charge of our defense over McChristal, but in this political, perhaps personal, offence on distant people, maybe we need somebody other than a warrior to lead our

Posted by: haf_jonsson | August 26, 2009 9:52 PM
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I like the way France handled Vietnam...goat American behind the steering wheel then bail out before Red China entered the fray and we drive over the cliff alone. Our intel sucked then and sadly still does. If we had the true support of other free nations ( TODAY )...we would not be at war.
Mission accomplished ??? Our own government leaders are at each others throats.

Posted by: freeparking | August 26, 2009 9:21 PM
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"Rearranging" generals in Afghanistan (most recently McChrystal for McKiernan) is, considering the current poorly thought-out and Washington-imposed strategy which runs almost entirely counter to that being properly imposed on Pakistan, disturbingly akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Posted by: dsarthur1 | August 26, 2009 8:31 PM
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General McChrystal was my battalion commander in the 82nd Airborne when he was a LTC. The Af-Pak operation will be won by gaining intel, and using it well. Gen McChrystal is the right man to execute this. He is smarter than Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Posted by: jcorbin1 | August 26, 2009 8:12 PM
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Why is it hard fro some people to understand that wars become deadlier and last for extended periods of time when you try to fight them peacefully. It's oxymoronic.

I'm not suggesting that we directly target civilians, but the fact is that a large portion of the so-called "innocent" civilians our Predator drone attacks are killing aren't so innocent. After all, in many cases they are aiding and abetting members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, whom they happen to be with when they are killed!

On the Predator drone point, al Qaeda has admitted that they fear its use and effectiveness, along with our other forms of air power. So what did Stanley McChrystal do shortly after taking command in Afghanistan? Did he step up the use of air power? Nope. Instead, he chose to reduce and restrict its use. That makes perfect sense, except not really. That's inane and suicidal.

It's obvious, in my opinion, that PR (Public Relations) guys like Mullen, Gates, and McChrystal care more about the lives of "innocent" Afghans and Pakistanis than they do about our own servicemen and women. Is that a controversial statement? You bet! But in my opinion it's true. Sad and disturbing, but true.

Josh Price-- theconservativebeacon.net

Posted by: jprice27 | August 26, 2009 6:37 PM
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Posted by: ptsd6869 | August 26, 2009 5:49 PM
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Be it Afghanistan or be it Iraq, there have been few instances during both major wars - and whether you define them as wars in the traditional sense or not, they are wars - where anyone has been held accountable for their actions or their lack of success. And yes, success can be defined in many ways. Excepting the Lyndie Englands of the war, senior officials have been recognized, medaled or honored, been given significant follow-on assigments and postings, etc. I'm sure I'm missing someone who was relieved of command other than General McKiernan, and no, I have no desire to see anyone "have his stripes pulled from his sleeves", but I can't think of who they might be.

We've shocked, we've awed, we've had the enemy in the last throes of... of whatever. We've mission accomplished... well not actually, that was only the successful return of a Navy ship, not what it appeared to be with the President and Commander in Chief standing in front of the sign (and his staff in vicinity, not as if they were blind to the activities around them).

And now we have a different card player at the table? Is that what this war has been about? We need to change people, not because they didn't succeed, not relieve them because they didn't do the job and move someone else in there, we're looking at card players. While I hope the next player doesn't have to be a good gin rummy or hearts player, and definitely hope he's not intending to play solitaire, I would rather see good military leaders there.

But side comments for a moment. While I realize that the military cannot be on a war footing 24 hours a day for their entire tour, do we really need to have massive base exchanges? Cannot the troops sacrifice for a year of being in a war zone? Do we really need radio commercials telling how this or that college is helping the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq continue their college education despite a war going on? If this is the war of a generation, or two wars of our generation, and we expect to be in Afghanistan for years, maybe we need more than changing one general, but need to change the attitude. Maybe war needs to be hell in order for us to accept the idea that, as the president said, it's a war of necessity. But, for a war of necessity, it doesn't appear to be all encompessing, nor, other than people are tired of it, do most of those people have any involvement other than as spectators.

What we need are military leaders, not the overworked word "warriors" nor the overworked word "heroes"; we need military leaders and people taking command. Thus far I haven't seen many.

Posted by: Dungarees | August 26, 2009 5:20 PM
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instead of brutal warrior combat truth, are you suggesting that american soldiers and social workers exchange plesantries, hold hands, and sing folk songs with irresponsible dangerous afghans and their retarded families.

an effective way of "winning the hearts and minds" is with a stake to the chest and a hammer to the head.

why am i not surprised that you were a typical social worker "commanding at the Senior Operational level in Afghanistan and Iraq?"

Posted by: therapy | August 26, 2009 5:01 PM
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I am sure that Colonel Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, Ret.)is a fine guy. But what prey tell is a Professor of Cultural Science? I am also certain that he is harder and meaner than Rambo but that photo certainly inpsires me to what to fight with him. Oh well i ma sure the troops who doing the dying are impressed and culturally aware. Say Col maybe you go over to Afghan and stay among the culturally aware grunts. Funny that Gen. McChrystal that newest, bravest warrior has NO CIB all the other tickets just never shot at. The grunts know what a CIB is and how you earn it.

Posted by: KBlit | August 26, 2009 3:55 PM
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All these generals and others should remember the Afghan's are fighting on their own soil and I assume we also would take a dim view of any outsider. The russians who as ruthless a bunch as you could find could not win and we are also just adding more troops to a situation that says just go home. We build base camps, flat panel TV more fire power than god and the bad guys, whomever the are this week, are doing it with small arms, mortars, rpg's and IED's. You cannot go after these guys carrying 130 pounds on your back, staying in small forts(read the french experience in Indo-china)and calling of air support when you take a round. I assume the taliban are the bad guys but if the central government under Karzi is only interested in stealing from the US and leaving the population to fend for itself you cannot win. Anyway we and folks that means essentially the US are now loosing more men each month to a failed policy.

Posted by: KBlit | August 26, 2009 3:49 PM
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The key component in the peacetime vs wartime senior leaders is the amount time in Staff Jobs vs. Operational Command. During times of peace, the proportion of time in a staff position (HQ Staff, Pentagon, in Schools, Teaching Schools, General's Aid, etc, etc - 'sitting at a desk) is much higher than operational command (working in a Operational, "field" unit). You will see top commanders with up to 60-80% of their entire career sitting behind a desk. Why do these staff officers get the majority of promotions? Because the downsides of any mistakes on a staff are low and over ridden by the exposure to senior officers for their fitness reports [annual job evaluation]. For instance a young officer who is a general's aid gets a glowing 2-4 star evaluation; a platoon commander or flight leader in the USAF or US Navy who does a superior job has a much lower ranked evaluator. Any mistakes in operational command lead to injuries or deaths, failed inspections, IG complaints. In the US Air Force we called it the "One Mistake Air Force", i.e., one mistake and your career is finished.

A simplified analysis of the mindset of "staff" vs "operations" shows the differences. The former is a tendency toward 'risk aversion' and making as few tough decisions as possible. The operations mindset is toward results. BL - these Staff Officers with often minimal exposure to Operations are then put in charge of large scale operations in wartime. Often they fail, such as the General listed here. Only in wartime do the Operational Generals rise to save the day, as when General Petraus came to Iraq. How many failures occurred before him? In Iraq I was amazed at the risk free bubble many generals built around themselves. It was more important that nothing BAD happened on their watch then actually moving toward victory.

BTW - the argument that victory in Afghanistan is impossible is false. Get the right leaders in there, give them the resources, spend much more toward winning the minds then just dropping bombs, and we can do it. I say this after commanding at the Senior Operational level in Afghanistan and Iraq; my son is now fighting in Afghanistan.

Posted by: afghaniraqkuwaitkoreavet | August 26, 2009 2:26 PM
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McChrystal's predecessor had the right idea, although he was sacked for it. Use heavy bombing via B-1B and B-52 bombers to eradicate the enemy and their sympathizers. A lot more rubble, burn the poppy fields, return fire a hundredfold, and tanks, tanks, tanks are the answer. Take no prisoners, kill, kill, kill should be the mantra.

Posted by: josephlausier | August 26, 2009 2:19 PM
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Yeah, New Strategy, New Leader, still forgotten is the objective, as the definition of "success" continues to be twisted to suit "new realities". A find job of not going anywhere, not finishing anything, just running at the mouth.

Posted by: argo | August 26, 2009 2:16 PM
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Col. Charlie, prof of “thought reform” during cultural revolution

Ref: blossom campaign Afghanistan

How many expensive career pentagon pretty boys in uniform, sunshine patriots, phony soldiers, stupid social workers, unfit fat ugly nicotine-dependant tattooed military mutants, liberal law enforcement “protection order” world policemen, delusional dumb darlings with badges & mental illness, and permanent “gun control” government parasites does it take to defeat a bunch of poor hillbillies from the mountains of Afghanistan?

Send surplus of crazy usa cops into the very very dangerous land of allah because it is in the best interest of American national security.

Vive le violence, victory, et vengence

Posted by: therapy | August 26, 2009 2:07 PM
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As an aside, anyone who thinks pinochle is more sophisticated than poker doesn't understand one of those two games very well.

That's probably true about the types of war also...

Posted by: bobtom222 | August 26, 2009 2:00 PM
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what are the reasons for staying and fighting in afghanistan.

pakistan would be next.the latter have nukes which would fall in the hands of the taliban.

i dont believe a word of it.just another domino theory.

Posted by: razor2 | August 26, 2009 2:00 PM
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alance is absolutely right.the afghan war is a huge mistake.we cannot win a war in mountainous terrain against people who have fought and defeated numerous nations.

let us think of our young men first and leave them at home.

america cannot save the world.

Posted by: razor2 | August 26, 2009 1:57 PM
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Observer57 I do not think any division commanders came back as brigade commanders.
But then again I topped out as a major after professional differeces with a Colonel who managed to play the system and burn up subordinates all the way up to two stars.

Posted by: rgrjeb | August 26, 2009 1:42 PM
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Success in Afghanistan will depend on how we define success. If by winning we mean the total domination and subjugation of the country then clearly we will not be able to accomplish that goal with the strategy now in place. In fact, there probably is no strategy for total victory which would yield a politically acceptable outcome.

However, as in Iraq, success is probably achievable at far lower cost and will provide equal political dividends by reducing the Taliban to marginal status and virtually destroying al qaeda by eliminating much of its leadership. However, in the long run, the ability to convince the oil rich leadership in the middle east to stop funding terror is probably the ultimate answer to improved security around the world.

Posted by: jimbob128 | August 26, 2009 1:41 PM
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COL Allen, good article. I know that you are not advocating for Senior Generals to be just cyphers who slavishly salute and do the bidding of civilians who may not care much about our servicefolk. For example, Colin Powell (who I admire greatly) was used during the pre-Iraq War briefings to the UN and other audiences. He suffered incredible damage to his reputation. Sometimes resigning and making the reasons known for the resignation is the most honorable approach. Remember the retired General uprising against Rumsfeld? Where were the active Generals? In my view, it is not so much about not getting fired but more about doing the right thing for our Nation.

Posted by: llehowicz | August 26, 2009 1:27 PM
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The author neglected to mention Gen McChrystal's lack of integrity and lying to his superiors and the public. Although under Mullen and Gates that is probably considered an attribute.

Posted by: GordonShumway | August 26, 2009 1:15 PM
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Regardless who you put in as commander - it is impossible to win in Afghanistan. It is possible to occupy Afghanistan, however, you will continue to have moderate to heavy casualties for as long as you're there.

If you think it is possible to win in Afghanistan by replacing commanders, you are delusional. The people there have been killing foreign invaders for thousands of years.

The mighty British Empire was unable to win during the 19th century and early 20th century. The Russians only occupied Afghanistan for ten years from 1979 to 1989. They paid a huge cost and got nothing in return except dead Russians. History will record the same fate for the Americans.

Posted by: alance | August 26, 2009 1:14 PM
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"Tightening the use of a tactic that's working is not the way to win a war."
Josh Price-- theconservativebeacon.net

Conservatives ALWAYS want to loosen the rules against bombing civilians.

In what way is it working? Petraeus has said it's counterproductive.

What are your metrics of success that define "working".

US casualties have been rising steadily since 2001. Afghan civilian casualties have been rising steadily since 2001. Taliban areas of influence have been spreading relentlessly almost since the invasion ended.
Public faith in the Afghan government is falling steadily. Public attitudes to foreign forces have grown steadily more hostile - with the bombing cited as a major reason.

So what is working about this strategy?

I suspect that, like many Americans of your political leanings, you think any bomb has "worked" that has a dead foreigner under it.

Posted by: kevrobb | August 26, 2009 12:55 PM
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Col Allen: The title of your opinion piece - "New Strategy and New Leader" does not fit the content of the article.

I expected to learn something substantive concerning the differences in tactics and strategy between Gen. McKiernan and Gen. McChrystal and how they translate into a new approach in Afghanistan. Instead, your article only offers little more than a poker analogy and a brief mention of Gen, McChrystal's experience in counter insurgency.

I'm sorry to say this, but - a very disappointing column.

Posted by: MillPond2 | August 26, 2009 12:37 PM
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Excellent post, Col. Allen.

I don't doubt that Gen. McKiernan should have been replaced, but I would submit that Gen. McChrystal is off to a worse start.

For example, Gen. McChrystal has significantly tightened the use of air power in Afghanistan even though it has been very successful and al-Qaeda has admitted such.

Tightening the use of a tactic that's working is not the way to win a war.

Josh Price

Got any proof of this, josh? I'd like to see your source, if there is one. What exactly does it mean to "tighten" a military tactic? Do you know? And as long as you're offering advice on "the way to win a war," what would "winning" mean in this one?

Posted by: dfc102 | August 26, 2009 11:52 AM
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"I offer that Gen. McKiernan had experience as the Land Component Commander for the invasion phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom..."

I would suggest that his role in that disastrously poor CENTCOM planning effort as commander of V Corps was an early indicator of his unfitness for higher command.

While McKiernan served under a spectacularly bad general, Tommy Franks, he was senior enough that he owed it to his men to consider the strategy as a whole.

CENTCOM's fundamental flaw - apart from the fact that the casus belli was fabricated and phony - was the complete absence of serious post-invasion planning.

This wasn't strictly McKiernan's job, but he must have noticed that, essentially, no-one in CENTCOM was doing such planning. He was the only one making decisions on how to occupy Iraq. Consider, in this context, the fact that CENTCOM had no plan for what to do with the Iraqi army after the regime collapsed. Isn't that rather a basic oversight? Did it not occur to McKiernan that somebody should look into this? Was he really doing his job properly when he knew, or should have known, that the invasion phase would end with this question hanging in the air, vital yet unresolved? In fact, unaddressed.

Given the boorish, ignorant, arrogant and incurious attitude that prevailed at CENTCOM headquarters in 2002-3, it's difficult to make the case that any of the general officers who surrounded Tommy Franks are fit for high command.

Posted by: kevrobb | August 26, 2009 11:42 AM
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Excellent post, Col. Allen.

I don't doubt that Gen. McKiernan should have been replaced, but I would submit that Gen. McChrystal is off to a worse start.

For example, Gen. McChrystal has significantly tightened the use of air power in Afghanistan even though it has been very successful and al-Qaeda has admitted such.

Tightening the use of a tactic that's working is not the way to win a war.

Josh Price-- theconservativebeacon.net

Posted by: jprice27 | August 26, 2009 10:50 AM
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Whereas one should always expect some degree of "proofing" at the beginning of a conflict, the American military system has time and again shown that its promotion process during peace-time produces largely inflexible, uncreative, managers whose real skills do not fall within winning battles or campaigns unless they are the political nature. Ticket punching has been further refined as a result of the well intentioned Goldwater-Nichols act so that "jointness" doesn't mean cooperation as much as it means playing nice while the operational pie gets divided and those personalities a little too argumentative, a bit too parochial even if for sound reasons are marked as unsuitable for major command. Eventually the three and four star wearers are comprised of those who survive the "can't we all get along" process and the officers who can effectively lead combat troops are outted at one or two star levels - if they made it that far. The endless cycling of 'qualified' officers was apparent from the beginning of this war as division commanders came back as brigage commanders, brigade commanders came back as higher echelon commanders or staff REGARDLESS of whether they had "won" the fights in their previous tours! Excellence on the battlefield was measured not so much as progress made as lack of disaster suffered, another reflection of the risk aversive leadership style imbued in our system from the outset. We promote mediocrity over true ability time and again and then ask ourselves why we end up shame-faced over avoidable blunders such as the entire run-up, execution, and post-campaign occupation of Iraq.

Posted by: observer57 | August 26, 2009 9:57 AM
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