Unity of command is one of the basic principles of war. It means that the forces employed for a given operation, regardless of its magnitude, complexity or duration, must be under a single command and be guided by one plan. All the subordinate commanders must share this ultimate vision of the operation. While unity of command has generally been applied to operation by military forces, in modern complex conflicts it must also include those who wield the other instruments of national power: diplomatic, economic and information.
Recent efforts to analyze the reasons behind the success of the 2007 Iraq surge have identified unity of command as one of the contributing factors. The military commander, General David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador, Ryan Crocker, were singing from the same sheet of music. This was made clear in their testimony before Congress that preceded the surge. They had worked together to develop the strategy for the surge and the metrics for success. Equally important, they operated as a team, reinforcing one another’s actions. Petraeus’s efforts in the field and in training the Iraqi security forces were supported and reinforced by Crocker’s to shore up the Iraqi government and improve its performance.
This situation does not exist in Afghanistan. Competing leaks have made it clear that the commander of coalition forces, General Stanley McChrystal, and the U.S. ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, disagree fundamentally on the right strategy for that country. The former says that without the additional forces, we risk losing in Afghanistan. The latter is of the opinion that more troops will reduce the chances for any successful outcome. You cannot have two more contradictory positions. Moreover, where is the plan to apply the other instruments of national power in Afghanistan to shore up the military part of any campaign? Presumably, this would be Eikenberry’s responsibility. Yet, we have heard nothing about his part of the solution.
Both men are good public servants and would attempt to implement whatever strategy the President selects. But would there really be effective unity of command? Ambassador Eikenberry would be required to work closely with Afghan President Karzai, someone the ambassador seems to distrust, to put it mildly. If the decision goes against McChrystal, in essence the military commander would be playing second fiddle to the ambassador, a bad situation. The reasonable conclusion would seem to be that depending on which strategy the President selects, one of these two men must go.
Find Archived Articles: