Small Wars Journal

The Pope

Fri, 05/15/2009 - 12:41am
The Pope

by Dalton Fury, Small Wars Journal

The Pope (Full PDF Article)

Behind his back we referred to him simply as SAM or Stan the Man. Always with reverence and respect of course. Later on, about the time he started to wear shiny silver stars, we started to refer to him as The Pope.

LTG Stanley McChrystal's meteoric rise through the ranks is no surprise to anyone that has ever had the opportunity to work for or with him. I was fortunate, from a subordinate officer perspective, on numerous occasions.

Few know the facts just yet as to why GEN McKeirnan was moved out of command in Afghanistan. Regardless of the reasons, and I'm certainly not read on to the scuttlebutt, I do know that America's interests, America's warriors, and America's mission in Afghanistan couldn't be in better hands under LTG McChrystal. My biggest concern is that I hope the senior officers in Afghanistan soon to be under LTG McChrystal's command are well rested.

The Pope (Full PDF Article)

About the Author(s)


Christian Weiss (not verified)

Tue, 07/28/2009 - 4:17pm

Hi IntelTrooper,

I did not know Colonel Steele, nor do i know the details of his involvement in the allegations against him in Iraq.

I do know from news reports that he was awarded the Bronze Star with V device for his actions during the raid on Mogadishu.

What i have read is that he was a brigade commander of the 101st Airborne in Iraq and later G-3 of FORSCOM. My comment on him would be that he hasn't commanded Rangers since he was a captain in 3rd Ranger Bn and presently doesn't seem to have a command. By that I would infer that if the flag officer ranks believe he "has some dirt on him" so to speak for how he ran his brigade in Iraq, then they will deal with the remainder of his career as appropriate. Suffice to say, he hasn't been afforded the opportunity to command a Ranger battalion or the 75th Regiment. To illuminate my point further, I would say that as an officer ascends the rank structure, his character, competency, and fitness for command at higher levels would naturally be re evaluated before affording him that next command. I also strongly subscribe to the belief that a person is "innocent until proven guilty" and nothing i have read seems to indicate Colonel Steele was ever even charged with anything. All I found was that he did not testify at the Article 32 hearing of his subordinates which may be unusual; however, i would say that it would be even more unusual for a Colonel to issue orders directly from his mouth to a PFC, a Spec 4, and a SSG. I have read that these 3 men are presently in Ft. Leavenworth prison for thier actions.

I think that the standard by which combat commanders should be judged on this issue is that they take reasonable measures to limit the unnecessary death of innocent civilians or of POW's as they plan thier missions rather than to be crucified and have thier careers ruined when a subordinate crosses the line. The problem in the war on terror is that our soldiers never know who is an innocent civilian from an enemy combatant until they come under attack.

Having stated that, Colonel Steele would be welcome at my dinner table or under my roof any time.

Bottom line, I sleep better knowing the US Armed Forces have at least some aggressive commanders who will take the fight directly to the enemy. As a father of two boys ages 1 and 2, I sincerely hope that the war on terror, and all wars are concluded before my boys have to fight it. Nothing would make me prouder than to see my boys earn thier jump wings, Ranger tabs, and CIB's; however, nothing terrifies me more than the prospect of them being maimed or killed. I, as any father, want my children to live long, prosper, and become an asset to humanity. I will; however, raise them to recognize thier responsibility to thier mother and thier country.


Christian Weiss
former A Co, 3rd Bn Ranger.


My name is Christian Weiss. I served under General McChrystal when he was Captain McChrystal back in 1986-88. I was an M-60 gun team leader in A Company, 3rd Ranger Battalion as well as his company clerk. I spent two years working directly with him and I can tell you that General McChrystal is a man of integrity and honor. He was always on top of the situation and completely competent at everything he did. You will not find a finer man or military officer than he. I have not had any contact with him for more than 20 years but i would bet my life on the fact that his basic moral character, integrity, sense of duty, determination, and competency with which he performs his job has not changed with the passing of time.

The US Army does not afford officers whose character or competency is lacking in any way the chance to command Rangers. General McChrystal has commanded Rangers as a company, battalion, and regimental commander as well as many other distinguished command assignments. You can rest assured that no one could rise through the ranks performing assignments like he has without being the very best at it. Of the living military officers capable of defeating the Taliban and bringing Osam bin Laden to justice, General McChrystal is definetly capable, in fact, he may well be the only officer in the US Military who can succeed. If the politicians clear the way for him to get the job done, he will.

As to the matter of Pat Tillman, I have no personal knowledge other than what the media has brought forth. My belief is whether General McChrystal knew or suspected that Tillman died of friendly fire at the time is not relevant. Pat Tillman was a patriot, he left a lucrative career in the spotlight of professional sports to do his duty to his countrymen as he saw it. He is a hero. He didn't have any obligation to enlist other than what his own conscience demanded. Pat also stepped up to the plate and volunteered for the toughest unit in the US Army, the Rangers, as the means of getting into combat and getting some justice for America. The fact that he died is unfortunate. The fact that he died from friendly fire is a much greater shame. It is regrettable that soldiers have and will continue to die in combat resulting from friendly fire incidents. The very nature of war is so fluid and unpredictable that the men who accept the responsibility of being at the vanguard of the attack, "walking point", so to speak, realize the possibility of this happening to them. That by no means do they take it lightly, and that command/control make all possible efforts to prevent such occurrences. In instances when faced with being overrun, our finest warriors have repeatedly called in gunfire on thier own positions rather than surrender the real estate to the enemy. Two of our most recent Medal of Honor awardees, Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon, begged thier command to be dropped into a firefight in the middle of Mogadishu to attempt to rescue a downed blackhawk pilot, Michael Durant and crew. They made thier last stand and the pilot, although captured after they fell, survived. I respect and honor Pat Tillman's, Gary Gordon, and Randy Shughart's sacrifices (all Rangers) and my condolences go out to thier family, friends, and fellow Rangers. Because he was a celebrity that died in combat the political aspect of the military as well as the politicians used Pat's death as sort of a PR campaign to honor his sacrifice but also to inspire other Americans to join up and support the effort. His being awarded the Silver Star is not unprecedented when a celebrity serves in combat, especially when one is wounded or killed in action. My belief is that General McChrystal most probably attempted to head off an embarrassing situation for the Army when he realized the politicians and media back home would use the Tillman death as a media centerpiece. Given the events unfolding at that time, this is understandable while at the same time being unfortunate. I do not think it necessarily reflects dishonorably upon the General. If it were some other Ranger who was not of celebrity status who died in a friendly fire incident, there would have been no mention of it in the media or any public "hoopla" surrounding it. Bottom line, Ranger's have been fighting for and, in some cases, making the ultimate sacrifice for Americans for more than 250 years. Look up Rogers Rangers.

As to the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, any war needs to be fought to the goal of winning. This war is very different, in that, we are not engaged in conflict with another "nation state" but rather a fanatical religious group that does not respect the rule of law, the rules of warfare, nor the Geneva Convention. Remember, these fanatics are some of the same people who fought the Soviet Union to the point the Soviets gave up and went home. The USA cannot afford to "give up and go home"; otherwise we will be dealing with these people on our own soil again, and the bleeding heart liberal female reproductive organ oriented individuals would really be out of thier minds if the war on terror were being fought on Main Street USA. Then they would be bemoaning the inability of our armed forces to defend us in our homes and workplaces.

Well, we all need to remind ourselves that since 9/11 the military has done a flawless job of keeping the war on terror overseas. No women or children inside our borders have been hurt or killed in almost 8 years. No ones leisure time has been infringed upon, no one who didn't chose to do so has had to make a personal sacrifice.

The military continues to defend our rights as citizens to bitch about what our government does wrong. I submit to anyone that you should rent the movie A Few Good Men and listen to the testimony of Jack Nicholson's character, "Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know -- that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives; and my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.

You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall -- you need me on that wall.

We use words like "honor," "code," "loyalty." We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punch line.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it.
I would rather that you just said "thank you" and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand the post. Either way, I don't give a DAMN what you think you're entitled to!"

General McChrystal, I support you and wish you success in your mission. I pray God will look over you and protect you, your family, and your men from harm. I wish i had stayed in the service and could be working with you now as I have not had the priviledge of working with people of the caliber it was my honor to serve with as a Ranger in over 20 years. As i rise and sleep under the blanket of protection you provide, I say THANK YOU! to you, to all Rangers past, present, and future, and the armed forces as a whole.


Christian Weiss
former A Co, 3rd BN Ranger.


Wed, 05/20/2009 - 2:19am

I don't think that the enemy is in a fight to overthrow any government. What limited governance exists is provided by the enemy. The Karzai "government" is not a government that needs to be overthrown because it has never enjoyed a moment of legitimacy and has hardly existed in reality, as opposed to on paper and in our minds.

If there is an insurgent in this fight, it is ISAF and the ANA.

Schmedlap, I respectfully disagree. Not about LTG Stanley McChrystal. I am not weighing in on that issue.

But treating the campaign as a counterterrorist operation / fight against organized crime is what has gotten us where we are, having lost so many years in Afghanistan while the insurgency grows.

Frankly, while I think I can see what parts of our own campaign are not a counterinsurgency, I am not sure what part of the enemy campaign is NOT an insurgency. They are engaged in a fight to overthrow the government. They have their own shadow government with their own system of jurisprudence, they raise their own revenue, they recruit, and they can mass forces of 300 - 400 fighters at a time (as we have seen in some of the recent battles), making it look at times more like a conventional campaign than terrorists blowing themselves up with bombs. They are led by an extremely organized and efficient shurra based in Quetta, and assisted by yet another extremely powerful, organized, brutal and efficient group (Tehrik-i-Taliban) based in South Waziristan.

Now. One might argue that we can't win, or that winning is irrelevant and we must seek at least a moderately satisfactory outcome (viz. Ken White), or that we should leave and deploy back to the states, or that we should go big and stay for a quarter century.

All legitimate arguments, to be sure. They all require argumentation and debate. That's not my point. The point is that organized crime simply cannot accomplish what the Taliban and other anti-Afghan fighters have been able to accomplish. This isn't a few bad guys (or even a few thousand bad guys] bullying people. It's many more than that, with a shadow administration that has at least some prima facie legitimacy with the people.

The small footprint, HVT program-driven SOF approach will ultimately lead to the point that our own soldiers starve to death because logistics lines are shut down. We barely are able to ensure security in the two major cities now. The Taliban own the rest of the terrain, both human and physical. Reduce the footprint and go on more HVT raids and what remains of the Afghans who drive the trucks for us now from Khyber to Kabul and from Chaman to Kandahar will have been killed. Our HVT operatives won't even have a way out when the Taliban finish off the country, and Hamid Karzai is no longer mayor of Kabul. Rather than Taliban country starting at 30 minutes outside of Kabul, they will be at the gates, and then finally inside.

Organized crime of for police to fight. Crime doesn't require standing armies. Fighters who are an "organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict," like the Taliban, must be fought as the insurgency that they are.


Tue, 05/19/2009 - 3:44pm

Regarding LTG McCrystal's alleged lack of COIN experience and/or understanding, I am unconcerned...

<I>"An insurgency is organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government
through use of subversion and armed conflict"</I>

That is paragraph 1-1 of the COIN FM.

Afghanistan does not seem like it is experiencing an insurgency. So why would we be concerned with countering one? It sounds like the mission is counterterrorism and some nation building, and has more in common with fighting against organized crime than in quelling an insurgency.


Mon, 05/18/2009 - 10:57pm

<tab><i>Cool. Like what? Thats what I keep waiting to hear. Ill be honest: If not for McChrystals reputation, I wouldnt be so interested. But we keep getting told, "Yeah, hes never really done COIN, and yeah, he was in charge when there was a big torture operation going, and he helped cover up the facts in the Tillman case, but trust me, hes really gonna do a lot of awesome stuff this time." </i></tab>

Although I am privy to some of the upcoming changes, I haven't been given permission to broadcast them in a public forum. Sorry. You'll just have to take my word that these will be good things (and I'll totally understand if you don't believe a random guy on the Internet). If people are saying that he hasn't done COIN he somehow has an intuitive grasp on what needs to be done (I could venture that he is simply a good enough leader that he listens to people with actual expertise and absorbs the right lessons from history).

Ken White

Sat, 05/16/2009 - 12:20pm


Good question. You ask:<i>Where are the reforms?</i> You may have missed my comment above; "I've been waiting for that culture change for over 50 years." Good luck with you being more fortunate than me and perhaps seeing such a change -- someday. That's a serious wish; I fought for that and longed to see it for a good many years.

Re: Nama, not dismissing, simply withholding judgment due to lack of knowledge. Since you say "If he was, indeed, running it" apparently your knowledge is no better than mine yet you raise the issue as a decisive one on his worth for a job. I guess that's okay but it make little sense to me. As for <i>"...most are not."</i> with respect to the ignorance of the media, we can disagree, I'll stick with my earlier statement that most are woefully ignorant and I'll add they exist to sell ad space or time, not to provide great truths. They merit considerable skepticism.

Your statement that torture of detainees has been one of the single biggest recruiting tools may or may not be correct, the important thing is that tool it may have been, but its <b>success</b> as a tool is unknown and is IMO quite doubtful. People in the Middle East and South Asia do not react to such things as do westerners. Not at all...

Declining support is yet another questionable issue you raise. Public support of anything, anywhere, is subject to the whims of the day, to manipulation and to be 'based' on the responses to questions that are rarely unbiased. Not to mention that no one likes foreign troops, no matter how benign overall, stumbling about their country. Stumbling being my word of choice. We have a rather poorly trained force; that is our fault as a people for accepting, even encouraging, mediocrity. Thus the stumbling is to be expected. Having stumbled about myself in earlier wars, I've come to accept it -- don't like it but I can accept it as fact.

You're certainly entitled to express opinions as are we all, your prerogative. However, you seem to rely a great deal on perception based on news stories and using innuendo to make your points. I'm an old cynic, yet I don't understand why the points you raise should cause me to ask the questions you seem to think I should. I don't think you've made your case.


Sat, 05/16/2009 - 4:12am


Cool. Like what? Thats what I keep waiting to hear. Ill be honest: If not for McChrystals reputation, I wouldnt be so interested. But we keep getting told, "Yeah, hes never really done COIN, and yeah, he was in charge when there was a big torture operation going, and he helped cover up the facts in the Tillman case, but trust me, hes really gonna do a lot of awesome stuff this time." Look, Im not necessarily averse to this guy taking command in Afghanistan--for reasons that Ken has enumerated. Im just saying that the specifics Im getting on his background all happen to be bad. And Ive yet to read a compelling piece from any of his advocates about why I should support the choice. You say his proposed reforms will "have the potential to deeply change Army culture." Perhaps they will, but Im just not seeing it. The article on which were now commenting--by a noted "operator"--paints him as a typical, hard-charging light infantry officer who runs a lot, is demanding of his subordinates, likes <a href="">Rangers</a&gt;, etc. Where are the reforms?


Fair enough on Tillman. On Camp Nama, though, yes, sometimes reporters are ignorant when they write about the military. But most are not. So this story cant be dismissed so easily. I linked above to two pieces on the topic--originally published months apart--by separate organizations. The problem here, again, is that these very serious accusations were leveled by several sources and they simply havent been refuted effectively. The bottom line is that somebody needs to find out what kind of shop McChrystal was running at Camp Nama--if he was, indeed, running it.

On "winning" versus "losing," yeah, theres no need to couch it in those terms. I usually try to go with "success" or "failure." I disagree with you on the "human life" question, however. Yes, our respect for human life has endangered missions at the tactical level in Afghanistan. Marcus Luttrell can attest to that. But our lack of empathy and sympathy at the highest levels for both civilians and detainees has caused immeasurable damage in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our respect for human life may not help us generate success, but our <i>lack</i> of respect for human life <i>can</i> certainly affect the outcome by facilitating failure.

First, torture of detainees by U.S. government and military personnel has been one of the single biggest recruiting tools used by terrorists and insurgents. The Abu Ghraib photos led to the deaths of hundreds of additional Americans. In that case, our mission was directly compromised by those who ordered soldiers to act like savages. If wed simply followed our own rules, that wouldnt have happened.

Second, the liberal--but often necessary--use of air strikes in Afghanistan has been the one of, if not the single biggest factor, in the <a href="">declining support</a> for U.S. troops by the Afghan population. Like many who frequent this site, at several points in my life, Ive been exceedingly grateful for the timely application of air power. But I dont think theres any doubt that air strikes are now doing at least as much harm as good in Afghanistan.

Paying special care to the lives of civilians where they live, while hunting terrorists at the same time are not mutually exclusive of each other. Its necessary in a COIN environment. And it's the price we pay for being the good guys.

Ken White

Sat, 05/16/2009 - 1:46am


I'm aware of the adverse stuff on McChrystal. All Generals have to operate in a system that like any bureaucracy or organism, will react sometimes stupidly to protect itself. My understanding is that McChrystal was the first GO to raise a red flag on the Tillman issue. The system decided, as it is prone to do, to continue what it was doing and told him thanks but drop it. So I'm not concerned about that one. On the Nama -- I don't know enough about it to comment sensibly and I'm not going to react to news reports which I find usually are quite ignorant in their understanding of anything military. Based on what little I do know, the issue is what did he know and when did he know it and we haven't got a clue and are not likely to.<blockquote>"Do others agree with him that "our respect for human life" has made the war in Afghanistan "unwinnable?" Does McChrystal? Because Fury implies that he does."</blockquote>General comment then the questions. The Afghan war is unwinnable no matter who does what to who. Any FID puts the responsibility for success or failure on the host government. The Afghans do not want to 'win,' they just want peace and, preferably for many but not all, no Talibs. They do not want to vanquish anyone so there'll be no winning by them.

The COIN aspect of our engagement means no win for us -- one cannot win a COIN battle short of using Genghis' techniques and we can't do that. If one isn't going to kill everybody, then the best one can do is achieve a satisfactory outcome. We may or may not do that; South Asia is South Asia...

That said, our respect for human life has made our operations in Afghanistan more difficult; it will have little to no effect on the outcome. Either way.

So, for myself, no, I don't agree with Fury but acknowledge that we are unlikely to really know the answer for many years.

Nor do I think we're 'losing.' All such operations go in cycles; we haven't done it all that well because the Army ignored the probability of such operations in spite of all evidence so everyone is having to learn by doing -- and the short tours adversely impact the learning. So does the stupid policy of sending people back to different AOs -- even countries -- instead of to areas they're familiar with.

We have a big, ponderous Army, it'll never be agile or flexible -- that does not meant that units and commands cannot be those things. They can, it depends on how much testicular fortitude the commander has; it's all about taking risks-- something senior folks in the Army often view as a genetic defect -- and trusting your subordinates. McChrystal apparently will take some risks and trusts. We'll see how he does.

<b>Intel Trooper:</b><blockquote>"This isn't just "we're gonna be more aggressive" or a focus on counter-terrorism ops. His reforms have the potential to deeply change Army culture for the better."</blockquote>I hope you're right -- I've been waiting for that culture change for over 50 years. I figured Korea would trigger change. Nope. Figured Viet Nam would - did but certainly not for the better in all cases...

Guess we'll see on that one, also.


Sat, 05/16/2009 - 12:52am

I have a heads-up on some of the things McChrystal is planning on implementing in his new AO. Having just returned from Afghanistan, I can tell you that his reforms are precisely what the doctor ordered. Whatever his supposed past activities have been, he is going to save a lot of lives, American, NATO, Afghan, and probably even Taliban. He has identified some key weaknesses in our historical approach to Afghanistan and has proposed changes which, if implemented, will solve a lot of the problems which no one has had the guts to do yet. This isn't just "we're gonna be more aggressive" or a focus on counter-terrorism ops. His reforms have the potential to deeply change Army culture for the better.


Fri, 05/15/2009 - 10:27pm


No argument from me on the "war is ugly" stuff or on the idea that war breeds error. That's why I'm inclined to give McChrystal the benefit of the doubt. But my experience has also given me an understanding of where the fine line exists between "shit just got fucked up" and "I'm just not a quality leader." With McChrystal, I'm saying I don't know into which category he falls. On one hand, we've got guys like Dalton Fury and Andrew Exum--guys whose views I typically respect--practically venerating the guy. On the other hand, the Tillman family is out this week saying he <a href=""… a homicide investigation</a>. Now, given how totally messed up that situation was, that's not necessarily a deal breaker in my mind. But when I read about <a href="… Nama</a> in the same week, along with McChrystal's relationship to it, and the accusation--true or not--that he <a href="">actively covered up systematic torture from the Red Cross</a>, then it's not something to simply brush aside or ignore. Because that's a pattern and that's where the "reputation" comes from, again, whether it's true or not. And that could be a deal breaker, at least for me, if it's true.

But I'll concede your point to a degree on counterinsurgency and McChrystal. First, you're correct in that Afghanistan is "a lot more than a COIN fight."

Second, the people who know the most about COIN are those who've practiced it at the company level and below at some point. So I guess, unless we want an O-5 in charge of the entire Afghan theater, then we'll probably have to choose between general officers who don't have that low-level, in-the-streets-and-homes, hands-on experience. And McChrystal might be the best guy for that.

However, now I'm concerned about Dalton Fury's remarks at the end of his piece. Do others agree with him that "our respect for human life" has made the war in Afghanistan "unwinnable?" Does McChrystal? Because Fury implies that he does. And I'm sorry, but that's not an overarching approach that will win anything in Afghanistan except a quick ticket home. Those are the words of a counterterrorist, not a counterinsurgent. And yes, both are important in Afghanistan, but that sort of attitude--if implemented theater-wide--will lead directly to mission failure. We're not losing because of our respect for human life.

Ken White

Fri, 05/15/2009 - 6:00pm


I understand that people have concerns about his 'reputation' but a look at the total record is needed, not just cherry picking the bad to carp. War is ugly, always has been and bad things happen; what most of us do and I'm sure you did is try to do the best we can under the circumstances. No one can really ask for more than that. Nor should anyone ask that a person in a war always do precisely the right thing -- that just isn't possible, war breeds error.

As for a demonstrated lack of COIN experience -- lot of that going around. Unfortunately, as you should know, the US Armed Forces all promote and assigns people under rigid Congressionally imposed laws that dictate fairness, equity and objectivity in promotions and assignments. That means, by definition, that you cannot always get the perfect person for any job; the system is too rigid. Perhaps it should not be but it is, so if that doesn't seem right to you, then you need to speak to Congress and tell them the Army should be able to put the best man for the job in a position with no constraints.

Not to mention that Afghanistan is a lot more than a COIN fight.

No one on the inside is going to come out and say "Look, this is why McChrystal is the best man for the job in Afghanistan" because those on the inside are just like those on the outside; pretty diverse and and wide ranging in their opinions. For everyone that agrees McChrystal is the right guy, there's probably at least one who thinks not. What most can agree on is that all things considered, he's probably as good a man for the job as is available given the constraints of the system.


Fri, 05/15/2009 - 5:17pm

I don't have any inside track with McChrystal, as I've never worked for him and I only know a few soldiers who have. But this post still doesn't address the concerns people have about his lack of demonstrated COIN experience and his reputation as <a href="… Killer Man"</a>. And unfortunately, those concerns are not unwarranted if media reports are to be believed.

If this piece by Dalton Fury is supposed to explain away those issues, then it does a poor job. I mean, c'mon:

<blockquote>"From my perspective, our rules of land warfare, our respect for human life, and our strategic constraints handcuff us to the point that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. But, with LTG McChrystal at the helm now all bets are off."</blockquote>

Talking about killing the COIN argument.

I'm not yet opposed to McChrystal, but I, like many others, would still like to see someone from inside come out and say, "Look, this is why McChrystal is the best man for the job <i>in Afghanistan</i>." And the explanation needs to be based on tenets of COIN--not on how many terrorists the man has killed, how many push-ups he can do, or how he reacts to PowerPoint presentations.