Mike O’Hanlon pays well deserved tribute to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, who has just stepped down as the No. 2 U.S. military commander in Iraq. During his tenure running Multinational Corps-Iraq since February 2008, Austin oversaw the defeat of Shiite militants in Basra and Sadr City and a continuing fall in the overall level of violence. His role was not as dramatic as that of his predecessor (and subsequent boss), Gen. Ray Odierno, because the situation in Iraq was not as dire when Austin arrived. And of course he will never get the same attention as Gen. David Petraeus, the most successful American general since Matthew Ridgway. But he nevertheless gets considerable credit for building on the gains made during the first year of the surge. I thought Mike’s final paragraph makes a particularly important point, one that I have raised repeatedly since my visit to Afghanistan in February/March:
Finally, we now know unequivocally that with a challenge as daunting as pre-surge Iraq, or Afghanistan today, the No. 2 person is as critical to operational success as the person in charge. In Iraq during the surge, first Odierno and then Austin played crucial roles as operational commanders. No such person, no such command, exists in Afghanistan today. As effective as Petraeus is, he needed a strong No. 2 to succeed. And as good as Gen. David McKiernan is today in Afghanistan, he is being asked to do too much himself. He needs a similar operational commander – and soon.
It’s all well and good that we are sending more troops to Afghanistan. But as Mike notes we also need to have the correct command structure in place to make the best use of them. And that will require having a strong corps headquarters in Kabul led by a gifted operational commander like Lloyd Austin.