Obama sacks top Afghan war commander, General Stanley McChrystal

Obama sacks top Afghan war commander, General Stanley McChrystal. Southeast European countries denounce Israeli attack on aid flotilla. Refugees returning to Kyrgyzstan. Suspected drug kingpin arrested in Jamaica. All this and more in today’s security briefing.
Rukeyya Khan
23 June 2010

US President Barack Obama has removed the top US and NATO military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, from his post after his criticism of leading Obama administration officials.

McChrystal was summoned to Washington on Wednesday in the wake of an article by Rolling Stone magazine in which the general and unnamed aides made derisive remarks about US officials.

The article suggested that McChrystal's key enemies in the Afghan War were 'wimps in the White House.' The general, who has since apologised for his remarks, criticised Vice-President Joe Biden and made stinging comments about the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, Obama's special representative to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, and the president's national security adviser, Jim Jones.

President Obama today paid tribute to McChrystal's service but added: 'I welcome debate in my team but I won't accept division.' General David Petraeus, who led the surge in Iraq, has been nominated as commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan with President Obama stating that the change is only one of personnel, not policy.

The change in command comes as the death toll of foreign troops rises. On Wednesday, six NATO soldiers were killed in attacks across Afghanistan, bringing the death toll of foreign troops to 75 in June.

The openSecurity verdict: Analysts suggest that the disrespectful behaviour exhibited by General McChrystal is symptomatic of a 'more deeply rooted, potentially dangerous malaise' that underpins the relationship between policy-makers and military personnel. Some have noted that the American armed forces 'wield growing political and social influence in an increasingly militarised society' largely as a consequence of the new militarism that has enthused the post-9/11 legacy and ‘global war on terror’.

McChrystal's deeply embarrassing remarks are the latest setback in a nine-year war characterised by rising casualties, declining public support and growing doubts about the capacity of the Afghan government to control the country. Writing in The Washington Post today, Henry Kissinger calls on Obama to modify his Afghan strategy by pursuing greater regional cooperation and a provincial solution that could see Afghanistan become a ‘confederation of semi-autonomous, feudal regions configured largely on the basis of ethnicity’ rather than a 'Western-style central government.’ This, together with the pacification of insurgents, argues Kissinger, is not realistically achievable by the timetable for withdrawal, due to begin next year. The bleak assessment of the strategy in Afghanistan by Kissinger and other analysts only adds to fears about a prolonged US and NATO presence in the region that risks a humiliating Vietnam-like withdrawal.

Far from quelling the insurgency, the security situation has deteriorated following the Obama administration's troop surge. According to the UN, insurgent violence has risen sharply and attacks are up 94 percent on their 2009 levels. An offensive to oust the Taliban from Marjah, an apparent stronghold of the Taliban, did not yield successes – McChrystal himself described it as a 'bleeding ulcer.' The question now is whether General can turn the tide in Afghanistan. Parts of the media have faithfully portrayed Petraeus as a miracle worker, who quelled the insurgency in Iraq. Yet the contribution of the troop surge to Iraqi security is contested, and, alongside other significant differences, troop levels in Afghanistan will never reach the numbers invested in Iraq in 2008 (157,775).

Still, jettisoning General Petraeus into the role of commander signals a change in priorities in the Obama administration, especially since, as Politico notes, 'the choice of Petraeus… means that Obama has prevailed over members of his cabinet and senior level staffers who doubted the strategy, because would not be seen to accept the job if he did not have the full backing of the president to conduct the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan properly.'

On the eve of an offensive in Kandahar, the launchpad of the Taliban’s conquest of most of the country during the Afghan civil war, Obama's critics are likely to hold fire. But for how long? With a presidential election closing in and the war effort faltering, Obama may, once again, question whether to give up the fight or double down and send more troops. Critics of the war are hopeful that, given the reluctance of NATO allies to supply more troops and economic woes at home, we may be approaching an end to the occupation of Afghanistan.

Southeast European countries denounce Israeli attack on aid flotilla

Turkey along with twelve other southeastern European countries denounced Israel's deadly raid on an aid flotilla heading towards Gaza late last month. A joint declaration calling for a credible and independent international investigation into the attack was issued at the end of the Balkan summit in Istanbul, where the thirteen-member strong Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP) convened their meeting.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Dock Workers Union has launched a week long blockade of cargo to and from Israel to protest against the raid on the freedom flotilla. About 1,500 members of the Union began the boycott on Wednesday across the country's ports, which reportedly 'handle more than 95 per cent of Sweden's foreign trade.'

Refugees returning to Kyrgyzstan

Authorities in Kyrgyzstan have said that thousands of refugees who fled ethnic clashes to neighbouring Uzbekistan have begun returning en masse. Unrest in the country's south, especially in and around the city of Osh, between the majority Kyrgyz and minority Uzbek this month has killed many hundreds and led to the displacement of 400,000, sparking a humanitarian crisis. The unrest comes two months after the country’s former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was forced out of office. The interim government has blamed Bakiyev for stoking the conflict whilst rights groups say that Bakiyev sympathizers in the police have exacerbated the violence.

The UN has called for international reconciliation efforts between the two communities in Osh, warning that the Kyrgyz economy will plummet and shrink by as much as five percent or more if violence continues. The Kyrgyz government meanwhile has pledged to help ethnic Uzbeks re-integrate into society by helping them to exercise their right to vote in a referendum on a new constitution on Sunday.

Suspected drug kingpin arrested in Jamaica

An alleged drug lord, Christopher 'Dudus' Coke has been captured in Jamaica yesterday, according to reports. Coke, who is wanted for extradition to the United States for alleged drug and gun trafficking, was arrested without violence. Reports suggest that Coke was on his way to surrender at the US embassy in Kingston when the police stopped his vehicle at a checkpoint. The authorities have appealed for calm following Coke's arrest.

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