On McMaster’s third and last try, General David Petraeus – who took himself off the list last week for Trump’s national security adviser – returned from Iraq to head the promotion board that finally gave McMaster his first general’s star.
Then a colonel, McMaster was commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment that in the spring of 2005 captured, held and began to stabilize Tal Afar on the Iraqi-Syrian border.
The city was held by Sunni extremists, a crossing point between Syria and Iraq for jihadists who started as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and morphed into Islamic State after he was killed.
McMaster’s preparation of the regiment is legendary: He trained his soldiers in Iraqi culture, the differences among Sunnis, Shiites and Turkomen, and had them read books on the history of the region and counterinsurgency strategy.
It was a sharp change from the “kill and capture” tactics the United States had used in Iraq since the invasion in March 2003, and to which the Obama administration returned in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.