Even before the General McChrystal flap regarding the Rolling Stone magazine article some had the sense that the war in Afghanistan is not going particularly well.
The more serious issue is the COIN strategy currently being implemented in Afghanistan. It is essentially the same as the plan used in Iraq: clear, hold and build. It worked in Iraq for three reasons: first, U.S. troops renewed the offensive in earnest, second, Iraqi forces became a partner and force multiplier and third Iraqi society's relative sophistication made the strategy more workable.
Unfortunately Afghanistan doesn't benefit from the second and third conditions and is not likely to in the near future. Much more so than Iraq Afghanistan is primitive tribal culture that views the indigenous government in Kabul as almost foreign and the coalition forces as alien. Nation-building in terms of road, well and school construction and improved medical care has helped since these programs began under the Bush administration. However, this notion that Kabul, or the U.N. can construct some sort of trickle down civil administration with "government in a box" initiatives.
Afghanistan needs a true, stripped down COIN strategy that finally makes use of Army's counterinsurgency experts-the Special Forces. Instead of being treated as a necessary side show SF should be given the opportunity to take more of a leadership role in the grand strategy for Afghanistan. SF Major Jim Gant wrote a paper called "One Tribe at a Time" that outlined a process by which SF teams would work directly with Afghan villages for periods of time to train the men to fight effectively to protect their village as well as engage in nation-building civic action programs.
Perhaps most importantly, the SF teams would gain the trust of the villagers and provide the kind of intelligence the U.S. needs to help role up the insurgency. According to the Pentagon's counterinsurgency manual, "Effective, accurate and timely intelligence is essential to the conduct of any form of warfare. This maxim applies especially to counterinsurgency operations; the ultimate success or failure of the mission depends on the effectiveness of the intelligence effort."
Maybe General McChrystal's firing can shake up the status quo and provide an opportunity for a course change before its too late.