Generation Kill: Stanley McChrystal’s Military Approach

Stanley McChrystal is a retired United States Army General that has worked in Special Forces and led the international operation in Afghanistan. He participated in an interview with Foreign Affairs, where he discussed how the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan influenced the army’s approach to such situations. McChrystal reorganized the approach American Special Forces took towards operations, leading some people to praise his achievements in creating a superior precision killing machine. This case study will use excerpts from the interview to discuss several questions about the nature and success of the reorganization.

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The 9/11 incident radically changed the approach the United States took to handling terrorists and insurgents. When asked about the nature of the change in Special Forces operations after the event by Rose (n.d.), McChrystal replied that the army had to face a different issue and take a more active approach. Special Forces had to dismantle enemy forces instead of passively responding as they did previously. As such, they had to go into enemy territory and deal with social issues, insurgencies, and sectarianism, which empowered the terrorists. To meet the objective, Special Forces began conducting numerous raids using improved information-gathering methods.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan offered Special Forces an opportunity to test new technology in the field. McChrystal mentioned equipment such as global positioning systems, night-vision goggles and cameras, and uncrewed and crewed aircraft in his interview with Rose (n.d.). The first improved various units’ navigational capabilities, enabling higher efficiency and reduced error. The second allowed the U.S. forces to dominate night combat by using no lights and maintaining awareness and accuracy. The third and final arsenal addition improved the command’s knowledge of the situation, allowing it to deploy only necessary forces through improved information gathering.

Overall, the general classified the results of the campaigns waged in Iraq and Afghanistan as partial successes for his forces. He did not argue when Rose (n.d.) described the Iraq effort as a success, but he also stated that the Afghanistan war was not an assured victory. In Iraq, the U.S forces were able to effectively destroy al Qaeda and convince the local population to stop supporting the group. However, in Afghanistan, the society was conflicted between the unpopular government and equally disliked insurgents, who could not be eliminated due to their haven in Pakistan.

McChrystal argued against the exclusive employment of technologically advanced precision strikes in warfare. In his interview with Rose (n.d.), he noted that the tactics do not produce decisive results and provoke similarly complex responses such as suicide bombings. Quick strikes, in which armed forces would perform swift, bloody attacks and leave, could not solve issues permanently, whether for the British Empire or the United States. Furthermore, special operations should be viewed as a part of the broader effort, and people should keep their ultimate purpose, peace, and safety in mind.

Overall, Stanley McChrystal described the change that occurred in anti-terrorism warfare after 9/11 as an intensification and improved efficiency. Special Forces had to root out terrorism and its insurgent support in Iraq and Afghanistan, meaning more frequent operations and improved information gathering. They employed new technologies such as GPS, night-vision gear, and aerial surveillance to enhance their efficiency. Nevertheless, their success in Afghanistan was not as absolute as in Iraq. The retired general warned that the army should not rely on technological dominance or Special Forces strikes excessively.


Rose, G. (n.d.). Stanley McChrystal interview.

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