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12 May, 2009 09:48

“They just keep on shooting” – US changes commander in Afghanistan

“We can and must do better in Afghanistan.” was the verdict of U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates as he sacked his top commander on the ground.

Gates explained that the military leaders needed to adopt new thinking and a new approach.

It is a view supported by one of America's most notable intellectuals, but speaking to RT, the philosopher Noam Chomsky notes that so far President Obama has failed to live up to his promises on Afghanistan.

“Bush started escalating the war in Afghanistan in 2004 and Obama in his campaign said that he's not going to escalate it further and in fact he is. He's actually sending tens of thousands troops, expanding attacks. They have killed a couple of Al-Qaeda members, but it's mostly civilians. Militarily the US can surely put down any resistance. It has overwhelming military power, but not socially and politically.”

The replacement is huge for a number of reasons. First of all, the ex-top US commander in Afghanistan Gen. David McKiernan, who occupied this position for less than a year, is a classic military commander. He has a conventional way of thinking about warfare. He wanted more and more troops on the ground – he asked president Barack Obama for 35,000 more troops in Afghanistan, while Obama would be able to give him only two thirds of that.

This could be a sign of an internal conflict of some sort, but US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that McKiernan has done nothing wrong. But the US needs a fresh look and a new approach in Afghanistan. This move is not only about changing a commander, but also it may signify the overall change in US strategy in Afghanistan.

Barack Obama is sending a message to his own team that it is going to take responsibility for the actions of the US troops on the ground. For example, Gen. David McKiernan did not take the responsibility for the death of Afghani civilians caused by air strikes carried out by US unmanned drones. It was actually US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who did most of the apologies for the dozens of innocent deaths.

Gen. David McKiernan is said to be replaced by Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, a covert special forces person responsible for operations aimed at specific individuals. He has built himself a reputation of being able to utilize various forms of intelligence for effectively pursuing specific targets.

Barack Obama himself indicated that he wants to see in command someone more focused on counterinsurgency. That is why there is no surprise McChrystal now finds himself in a new exciting role.

Another reason for the change is that frustration is really mounting on both sides in Afghanistan.

“They just keep on shooting, they are not stopping,” says Sergeant Kenneth Alexander from 26th infantry regiment. “They are just sitting out there waiting to shoot again.”

The war in Afghanistan is far from being conventional. Military analysts say that Barack Obama understands that a new approach is desperately needed to further conduct this war. Now he wants to win this war with less American troops on the ground and less civilian casualties. He seems to understand that more civilian casualties will only create more US-oriented hatred which automatically means more support for the Taliban and the whole cycle will roll on without end.

The change of commander might signify the first step of the real rethinking of how the US approaches the war in Afghanistan.