Army officers gathered at a convention in Washington this week said that senior White House officials should not have rebuked Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, for saying publicly that a scaled-back war effort would not succeed.

Share story

WASHINGTON — Army officers gathered at a convention in Washington this week said that senior White House officials should not have rebuked Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, for saying publicly that a scaled-back war effort would not succeed.

The hallways at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center buzzed with sympathy for McChrystal, who has said the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan risks failure without a rapid infusion of additional forces.

“It was definitely a hand slap,” one Army officer said of the statement last weekend by National Security Adviser James Jones, himself a retired Marine general, that military officials should pass advice to President Obama through their chain of command.

The Army officer, like others attending the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the politically sensitive issue.

A number of senior Army officers compared McChrystal to former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, now Secretary of Veterans Affairs, who warned before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 that it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure the country — advice that was dismissed as “wildly off the mark” by then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

“You know what happened to Shinseki,” said one Army general, referring to what many officers believe was the Bush administration’s punitive treatment of the former Army chief of staff.

Shinseki’s assessment was vindicated when President George W. Bush increased U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

Other officers faulted the Obama and Bush administrations for failing to define the mission in Afghanistan. “McChrystal was sent to fix Afghanistan — is that to get rid of the Taliban or al-Qaida?” said a one-star Army general.

“Gen. McChrystal has given an assessment of what the military strategy should be to achieve the political objective,” said an Army officer who served in Afghanistan under McChrystal and his predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, who was abruptly relieved in May by the Pentagon leadership.

McKiernan made a very public appeal for tens of thousands of additional forces, and that led to initial troop increases first under Bush and then Obama.

When McChrystal was selected by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to replace McKiernan, the belief in military circles was that he would be given the resources to conduct a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan — finally providing what officers had long believed was necessary to try to stem increasing violence.

The Pentagon has also pressed NATO and other international allies to supply more forces, but Army officers at the convention voiced concern that signs of division within the Obama administration over Afghanistan strategy could sap the commitment of governments struggling to maintain public support for a sustained campaign.