Chris Stephen: The buck stops with Obama as US strategy in Afghanistan hits wall

GENERAL McChrystal may have been sacked, but the shambles that is America's policy in Afghanistan remains, with no sign that President Barack Obama has found a way of navigating through the chaos.

For the truth is he presides over a war machine that is alarmingly dysfunctional.

The rot set in earlier this year, when the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, complained he was being elbowed aside by Mr Obama's envoy, Richard Holbrooke.

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Then National Security Adviser James Jones, a former marine general, sent a cable to Mr Eikenberry agreeing Mr Holbrooke was a problem, in part because he had alienated Afghan president Hamid Karzai, and promising the envoy would be sacked.

That cable was leaked and triggered a furious response from secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who pressed Mr Obama to keep Mr Holbrooke.

Added to the fact that vice-president Joe Biden is at odds with Mrs Clinton and has proposed a radically different war strategy to Mr Obama's, and you have a classic case of too many cooks. US strategy, devised by Gen McChrystal, centred on convincing Taleban warlords to join the government, then using the "surge" in combat troops to smash the remaining rebels.

But the determination of Mr Karzai to pursue his own path in dealing with Taleban leaders has wrecked the political strategy and left the army as a hammer without an anvil.

This leaves Mr Obama facing a strategy in tatters with command lines tangled.

It may be that the sacking of Gen McChrystal shows the US commander-in-chief is now exerting a firmer grip on matters – with Mr Obama taking a leaf out of the book of a predecessor, Harry S Truman, who fired his top commander, General Douglas MacArthur, for insubordination at the height of the Korean War.