Sean MacFarland

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Sean MacFarland is a brigadier general in the United States Army, who commands the Joint Task Force-North, responsible for counter-drug and counterterrorism along the U.S.-Mexico border; it is headquartered at Biggs Army Airfield, Fort Bliss, Texas.

He comes from a family with deep Army roots. When he was promoted to brigadier general, his father, COL (ret.) Garth MacFarland and his wife, Lynn, each pinned a star on his jacket. His son, West Point Cadet Philip MacFarland, and his daughter, Maggie MacFarland, each pinned a star on his shirt during the ceremony. His grandfather was the late retired Army Col. Jack MacFarland. His brother is retired Army Lt. Col. Chris MacFarland of Canajoharie. His nephews include Army 1st Lt. Matt MacFarland and Airman 2nd Class Joe Stetin.[1]

The board that selected him for promotion was headed by GEN David Petraeus, who rewarded strong performers in the Iraq War. Also on the board were Stanley McChrystal and Peter Chiarelli.[2]

Iraq War

Then-COL Sean MacFarland moved his 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division into Ramadi, Anbar Province, an overwhelmingly Sunni area then considered under al-Qaeda control, during the insurgency in the Iraq War. He began to form alliances with the local leaders against AQI, who would not allow them to stay neutral. [3]

His experiences were documented as part of the Army's Contemporary Operations Studies Team, including accounts such as
MacFarland used Information Operations extensively against the remaining enemy. One operation, called Bridge Builder, was a unique approach. MacFarland recalled, "These were really AQ guys and we had reports from various interrogations that some of these guys were drug addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals, pedophiles, and all this kind of stuff. So, we put posters up for these guys with their pictures and we said, 'Hey. These guys are homosexuals, pedophiles, drug addicts, and alcoholics, ' and figured if they wanted to sue me for slander, then, come on in and we'll talk. That would be great because then they could just sue me from Abu Ghraib." In June 2006, MacFarland's brigade was sent south to Ramadi in Anbar Province. There his command took over that area of operation from the Pennsylvania National Guard's 2nd Brigade, 28th Infantry Division. In Ramadi MacFarland found the situation far different than in Tall Afar. The city was under al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) domination and the new mission was to clear them out. After about three months of Ready First Brigade's efforts working with local leaders, and due to AQI's own missteps with the local population, a key sheik in the city "flipped" and brought a number of other sheiks with him to start working with the coalition forces. This event has since become known as the "Anbar Awakening" was the beginning of the great success by MacFarland's troops to bring Ramadi under control in 2006 and 2007.

In summing up his view of his key lesson learned in Iraq, MacFarland explained, "... indigenous forces are the key to winning a counterinsurgency fight and you have to accept them for what they are and not be put off by the fact that they are not like us and don't operate just like us... You know, we always ask ourselves, 'Well, are they worthy allies?' Well, you know, we need to ask ourselves that same question and I would argue that we had not been worthy allies up until that point and, certainly, our history requires a bit of a leap of faith for anybody who wants to align with the United States. Anybody who watched our experience in Vietnam kind of has to really swallow hard when we say, 'Don't worry. We are not going to leave you behind.' [4]

Earlier service

MacFarland also served in combat in Granada, Panama and the Gulf War.


He has earned a Legion of Merit Medal, three Bronze Star medals, six Meritorious Service medals, a Joint Service Commendation Medal, an Army Commendation Medal, five Army Achievement medals, and the Combat Action Badge.


He was commissioned a second lieutenant upon graduation from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1981. He earned a master of science degree in aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech. He also graduated from the Command and General Staff College.


  1. Terry Brown (25 October 2008), "Albany native promoted to general: Sean MacFarland led combat operations in Iraq", Albany Times-Union
  2. Ann Scott Tyson (15 May 2008), "Army's Next Crop of Generals Forged in Counterinsurgency", Washington Post
  3. Thomas Ricks (2009), THE GAMBLE: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, Penguin, ISBN 987-1594201974, pp. 59-69
  4. Interview with COL Sean MacFarland, vol. ON POINT III, Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army, 17 January 2008