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Gen. David Petraeus takes over in Afghanistan: Will it make a difference?

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“The Petraeus choice is an awfully good move,” says William Martel, a security studies expert at Tufts University’s Fletcher School.

McChrystal’s firing was done quickly – the general had a few minutes with Obama in the morning, then left prior to the beginning of the monthly White House meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan policy. In announcing the move Obama stressed that it stemmed only from the general’s behavior in speaking too loosely to a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine, and not from any differences in policy.

Obama said he remained in “full agreement” with McChrystal’s approach to fighting the difficult Afghan conflict.

Winning hearts and minds

McChrystal, a former chief of Special Operations Command, did not get the Afghanistan post in the first place by being a conventional general. Instead, he emphasized a counterinsurgency doctrine that holds among other things that the strategically crucial high ground in the war is the hearts and minds of the Afghan people as much as the mountain ridges along the border with Pakistan.

McChrystal calls his approach “population-centric.” Among other things, it involves less use of close air support to bolster US ground troops when they take fire. This has reduced Afghan civilian casualties, but increased worries among junior officers about the risks they and their patrols must take.

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