New Afghan plan?

Guest editorials do not necessarily reflect Herald-Leader views.

The war in Afghanistan is not going well. And President Barack Obama has the right to choose his own top commander.

We hope that his decision this week to fire Gen. David McKiernan and replace him with Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal means that the president and his team have come up with a strategy that will combine aggressive counterinsurgency tactics with economic development.

That is the only chance for turning around a must-win war that America isn't winning. We also hope that McChrystal, an expert in special operations, will do a better job at limiting the number of civilian casualties that are helping to drive more Afghans into the Taliban camp.

McChrystal, a hard-driving and talented officer, impressed superiors during his five years running commando missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Success in Afghanistan will also require effective training for the Afghan army and police forces so they can stand on their own, strengthened local institutions and an effort to rein in the officially condoned corruption and drug trafficking.

And, it will require skillful diplomacy with other NATO generals to ensure the best use of tens of thousands of allied troops in Afghanistan and with Pakistani military leaders who must do a lot more to deny cross-border sanctuaries and infiltration routes to Taliban fighters.

McKiernan does not deserve the blame for the situation. The Taliban had been gaining ground long before he took charge, in large measure because the Bush administration — focused on its misguided war in Iraq — failed to invest adequate troops, resources or attention to the Afghan fight.

McChrystal's impressive military reputation rests in part on such stunning exploits as the capture of Saddam Hussein and the location and killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaida in Mesopotamia.

Less impressively, some of his commando units were implicated in abusive interrogations of Iraqi prisoners. And he approved the falsified report that covered up the 2004 friendly fire death of Corporal Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.

These issues came up during his confirmation for his present job as director of the Joint Staff. Before confirming him in his new command, senators must assure themselves that he has learned the hard lessons from these mistakes.