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Two key changes in top U.S. military brass don't seem to be stirring much controversy among European allies for the moment.
While the surprise removal of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, was heavily covered in the U.S., it made barely a ripple in Europe and most of those mentions were simply relaying the information that McKiernan would be replaced by Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
In making the move, Defense Sec. Robert Gates emphasized that McKiernan — who had been in the job less than a year — had not done anything wrong, but that the new Afghan policy could be better carried out by someone else — someone who is more familiar with the kind of counterinsurgency tactics now considered necessary in Afghanistan.
Daniel Korski, a senior analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) who has just written a new report on the need for a civilian "surge" in Afghanistan, agreed that a fresh start is needed. "[McKiernan] forged a close link with the U.N. and sought to deal with political issues such as collateral damage," Korski said. "But the effort has clearly deteriorated including since he took over."
Korski said NATO allies will be willing to cooperate with McChrystal, who will benefit from being seen as an Obama representative, as long as he shows his commitment to the U.N. role in Afghanistan and to real partnership with the allies.
There will also be new blood in the office of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), a position that typically goes to an American while the Europeans staff the seat of NATO Secretary General. NATO has appointed the first Navy officer ever for the job, Adm. James Stavridis, who takes over from Gen. John Craddock, who was never planning on staying past summer. Stavridis arrives in Belgium fresh from commanding the troops from U.S. Southcom.
Korski called the appointment a "smart move" too, allowing a "fresh start" with NATO's incoming secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He said Europeans may also like the fact that Stavridis has shown genuine interest in cooperation and that, as a blogger as well as a fighter, he has a "sense of the modern world."