General McChrystal replaced Gen David McKiernan
Afghan media have characterised the replacement of US Commander Gen David McKiernan as a consequence of a failure of policy on the part of the US. Specifically, they have linked the change to the high rate of civilian casualties in anti-insurgency operations.
It was announced on 11 May that Gen McKiernan would be replaced by Gen Stanley McChrystal. Announcing the decision, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the fight against the Taleban needed "new thinking". The change also comes as the US is seeking to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan.
Anger over civilian casualties features prominently in the Afghan media from across the political spectrum. The latest incident, in which more than 100 people were reported killed in an air strike in early May in western Farah Province, led to demonstrations and media outrage.
Independent and pro-government media outlets were in agreement that the high rate of civilian casualties was the major factor behind Gen McKiernan's removal.
Independent Tolo TV noted on 12 May that this "is the first time that a top US commander has been removed". Speculating on the reasons, the TV's correspondent said that "civilian casualties in Afghanistan, particularly the latest incident in western Farah Province... are considered to be the main motives behind his removal".
Pro-government newspaper Weesa agreed, and went on to advise the new commander to end civilian casualties during operations.
"After military operations in Bala Boluk district... several protests and expressions of outrage took place against these incidents and experts think the replacement of the US commander is related to these protests," said the paper's commentator Shahryar in a 13 May article.
He went on to warn that increasing the number of troops would not be enough to win Afghan hearts and minds. "They must stop killing civilians in order to be able to avoid a negative mentality against their presence in Afghanistan."
Others in the Afghan media saw the change in US command as a reflection of the overall failure so far of US policy towards the country.
In a report on 12 May, the Afghan Voice news agency (www.avapress.com) observed that Gen McKiernan's removal took place as Washington was boosting troop numbers in the country, as well as an upsurge in Taleban military operations.
"These indicate the defeat of the strategy pursued by the Bush administration, which Obama is now seeking to change."
The agency also speculated that Gen McKiernan was sacked following recent talks in Washington between Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Private newspaper Rah-e Nejat summed up the Afghan media's reporting of the story. In an article on 13 May under the headline "Admission of defeat!" the paper said that Gen McKiernan had failed to co-ordinate military operations among foreign forces, and between foreign and Afghan forces. "This led to a rise in the number of Afghan civilian casualties."
'Wishful thinking' - Taleban
The Taleban, meanwhile, were quick to seize the propaganda value of the affair. Taleban spokesman Qari Yusu Ahmadi, talking to Afghan Taleban Voice of Jihad website on 12 May, described the appointment of Gen McChrystal, as well as the appointment of a new US ambassador, Gen Karl Eikenberry, as "wishful thinking".
"The recent measures and appointments by the enemy have shown that the Americans and their allies have totally lost their way as to how to win the war in Afghanistan. They are increasingly losing patience and their focus."
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