MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The man tapped to take charge of the war in Afghanistan is a three-star general, an Army Ranger, and a former leader of a secretive, counterterrorism force. His name is Stanley McChrystal, and he now faces the challenge of moving from the world of clandestine military operations to a very public role: running U.S. and NATO war efforts.
NPR's Mary Louise Kelly examines the general's career.
MARY LOUISE KELLY: Stan McChrystal hasn't always worked in the shadows. Right now, he's director of the Joint Staff, a prominent Pentagon job. And back in 2003, he was one of the military's key briefers. Here he is updating reporters the week U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq.
General STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL (US Army; Director, Joint Staff): Our ground forces are pushing north towards Baghdad and al-Kut. We are more than 220 miles into Iraqi territory and have done it in over...
KELLY: But six months later, McChrystal took over as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, known as J-SOC. J-SOC is home to the nation's most elite Special Operations teams, including Delta Force soldiers and Navy SEALs. Stan McChrystal commanded J-SOC from 2003 until 2008.
General PETER SCHOOMAKER (Former Army Chief of Staff, Retired): I think he is the finest that we've got on the books, to be honest with you.
KELLY: That's retired general and former Army Chief of Staff Pete Schoomaker. General Schoomaker says McChrystal's talent was evident early on.
Gen. SCHOOMAKER: On numerous different exercises and operations, he always had solutions that were good solutions, that some other people wouldn't have thought of.
KELLY: After 9/11, McChrystal led teams hunting for Osama bin Laden and his deputies, and for al-Qaida in Iraq's notorious leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Bob Grenier remembers meeting McChrystal about five years ago.
Mr. BOB GRENIER (Former Director, Counterterrorism Center, CIA): He was commander J-SOC, and I was director of the counterterrorism center at CIA.
KELLY: CIA paramilitary units worked closely with McChrystal's J-SOC teams on operations in Iraq and along the Afghan-Pakistan border. And Grenier, who is now with the global security firm Kroll, notes that J-SOC, like the CIA, operates under a cloak of secrecy.
Mr. GRENIER: There's a reason why they call them black SOF, black Special Operations Forces. The job that he is taking over right now is going to place a much greater emphasis on white SOF, on doing counterterrorism and counter-insurgency operations using indigenous forces. That doesn't in any way disqualify Stan McChrystal. But I think its going be an adjustment in his approach to the fight.
KELLY: Retired Army General Doug Brown agrees.
General DOUG BROWN (U.S. Army, Retired): If there's anybody out there that thinks that this is the same job that he's done in the past, I would tell you that they're wrong.
KELLY: General Brown was McChrystal's boss when he was overall commander of U.S. Special Operations. Brown says McChrystal's approach to the mission will have to change if he's going to succeed in what's in some ways a diplomatic job, working with Afghan leaders, NATO allies and more. McChrystal will have the chance to lay out his approach next week.
On June 2nd, the Senate Armed Services Committee plans a confirmation hearing for McChrystal. This is the same committee that held up his confirmation one year ago, when he was up for a promotion. Senators then had two concerns. The first, allegations of abuse at detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A spokesman for the Special Operations Command confirmed to NPR that 68 people assigned or attached to Special Operations units were disciplined for detainee abuse during General McChrystal's tenure. But it's not clear how many of these fell under his direct command, and General McChrystal has never been sanctioned.
The other issue involved Corporal Pat Tillman. Tillman was the football star who joined the Army after 9/11 and was accidentally killed by fellow Army Rangers. The Army initially insisted Tillman died from enemy fire. And a Defense Department report held General McChrystal accountable for quote, inaccurate and misleading assertions about the episode. But McChrystal was eventually cleared.
Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, expects questions about Tillman will come up but won't hurt McChrystal's chances.
Senator JACK REED (Democrat, Rhode Island; Member, Armed Services Committee): I think he has demonstrated that, in retrospect, his judgment has improved. I think he's done a lot of things that earned him confirmation before and will do it again.
KELLY: You said his judgment has improved. Did he acknowledge the last time around that he wishes he'd handled that situation differently?
Sen. REED: My sense is yes. But again, given the situation, I think there are a lot of folks look back and say, gee, I wish I had done that differently.
KELLY: Congressional aides say both Pat Tillman's death and questions of detainee abuse were vetted last year and that unless new information surfaces, Stan McChrystal is on track to be awarded a fourth star and command of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.