NPR logo Won't Measure Afghan Success By 'Enemy Killed': McChrystal


Won't Measure Afghan Success By 'Enemy Killed': McChrystal

Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is testifying before the Senate Armed Service Committee today in his confirmation hearing to be the nation's top commander in Afghanistan.

Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, President Barack Obama's nominee to be commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 2, 2009. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta hide caption

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AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

His confirmation is widely expected, despite controversies over the way he handled the aftermath of the death of former pro football star Pat Tillman in a friendly fire case and the detainee abuses attributed to a unit he commanded in Iraq.

There was nothing in the early questioning by the senators to suggest that McChrystal's nomination was in trouble.

Here are a few excerpts from McChrystal's testimony:

The challenge is considerable this is not the environment we or our NATO allies and other international partners envisioned four or even two years ago. But it is the environment we have today and the place from which we must navigate a way forward.

There is no simple answer. We must conduct a holistic counterinsurgency campaign. And we must do it well. Success will not be quick or easy. Casualties will likely increase. We will make mistakes. The commitment and the continued support of this committee, Congress and the American people will be vital. With the appropriate resources, time, sacrifice and resources we can prevail..."

...Central to counterinsurgency is protecting the people. Efforts to convince Afghans to confer legitimacy on their government are only relevant if Afghans are free to choose. They must be shielded from coercion while their elected government secures their trust through effective government and economic development at all levels.

In counterinsurgency how you operate... often determines success or failure. If confirmed I would emphasize how we conduct operations is vital to our success.

Although I expect stiff fighting ahead, the measure of effectiveness will not be enemy killed. It will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence.

The last statement was McChrystal's way of suggesting that he would not repeat one of the mistakes of Vietnam in which U.S. generals focused on body counts of the enemy as a proxy for whether the U.S. was winning.

It will be worth watching to see if media coverage of Afghanistan changes noticeably given McChrystal's statement that he won't use bodycounts as a metric of success.

Heretofore, when reporting on firefights with the enemy, the U.S. military has told journalists how many Taliban fighters were killed which journalists have then reported in media reports that seemed eerily reminiscent of Vietnam. One might expect a change in this pattern if McChrystal means what he said to lawmakers this morning.