The new U.S. commander in Afghanistan will build a team of high-ranking specialists with a dedicated, long-term focus on defeating the Taliban and rebuilding the contested nation, The New York Times reported Thursday.
According to the Times, Gen. Stanley McChrystal will have "carte blanche" to bring together 400 officers and senior enlisted servicemembers in what will be called the Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell.
McChrystal was confirmed by the Senate late Wednesday as the new leader of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. He immediately boarded a plane that was scheduled to take him to meetings with a pair of European allies before dropping him in Kabul, the paper wrote.
Among his first tasks is to assemble his team — expected to include many special operations forces — who will rotate regularly between the United States and Afghanistan for a period of at least three years. McChrystal said the repeated deployments to the same areas will help them accumulate expertise on the regions and people they will deal with. When back in the States, members of this team still will be focused on Afghanistan projects.
Brig. Gen. Scott Miller, a special operations veteran, is expected to lead the unit, which grew out of a similar group McChrystal commanded in Iraq.
"The biggest complaint we hear from Afghans is that they get to know a new unit, spend a few good months working with them, and then the troops redeploy and are never seen again," a senior military official told The Wall Street Journal. "This is a way of capturing some of that expertise."
McChrystal replaces Gen. David McKiernan, who was relieved of command by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. McKiernan is expected to retire.
For the first time, a three-star general will serve as the top deputy in Afghanistan. Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez is expected to handle day-to-day combat operations.
McChrystal also selected the senior intelligence adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn to be his director of intelligence in Kabul. Miller, too, had been serving with the Joint Chiefs before being tapped by McChrystal, for whom he had previously worked.
Mullen said he told General McChrystal that "he could have his pick from the Joint Staff. His job, the mission he’s going to command, is that important. Afghanistan is the main effort right now," according to the Times.
McChrystal’s nomination was pushed through with a little outside help, the Times reported. It said Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., took the floor and urged Republicans not to delay the confirmation. He described a phone call from Joint Chiefs Chair Adm. Michael Mullen, saying it was imperative that McChrystal be confirmed and aboard the plane that very night.
Reid said that according to Admiral Mullen, "McChrystal is literally waiting by an airplane" to go to Afghanistan as the new commander.
Gates has asked McChrystal to report back within 60 days to give his assessment of the situation in the country and what is needed to carry out President Obama’s new strategy, according to The Times.