McKiernan Steps Down in Afghanistan;Pakistan Offensive continues in Swat

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced on Monday that he had fired Gen. David McKiernan. Time reports that Gates was impatient with McKiernan’s failure to take charge and solve logistical and tactical problems himself.

The allegations may well be unfair to McKiernan, who maintained that his army was way too small for its task. But the fact is that the Taliban insurgency has grown from 3-4000 fighters to something closer to 15,000 during the past 3 years, and that since McKiernan took over a year or so ago, the situation has gotten worse yet. even if that is not his fault, Gates no doubt figures that the buck stops with the in-country commander.

Ironically, McKiernan, who is being tagged as an old-time tank commander, was among the first officers in Iraq in 2003 to recognize that some of Iraq’s army and security forces had reverted to being irregulars determined to fight an unconventional guerrilla war. Then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dismissed McKiernan’s observations on that score.

Time also implies that McKiernan was not bold enough in challenging the Karzai government on the poppy/ heroin trade. We’ll see if his successor, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, really can make a dent there. Note that past forcible eradication campaigns appear to have aided the recruitment efforts of the Taliban.

Meanwhile, McChrystal has caught a potential big break, since Uzbekistan has just agreed to allow one of its air bases to be used for shipping in non-lethal materiel. South Korea apparently brokered the deal. The US lost its Kyrgyzstan air facilities recently, and had been kicked out of Uzbekistan earlier for allegedly sponsoring democratic forces aiming to overthrown the ruler, Islam Karimov. Uzbekistan is an economic basket case because the policies of the left-over commisars, and it is alleged that 5 million of its 25 million citizens have emigrated in search of work. In other words, Uzbekistan needs whatever money the US is proffering for the use of the base.

On the Pakistan side of the border, the Taliban are funded in some part by emerald mining, timber and marble (they usurp a billion dollars a year in timber income).

As Pakistani Taliban flee the advancing Pakistan army, , many appear to be moving into Peshawar and its environs and taking members of middle class families hostage for ransom.

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