McChrystal: 5 Years Before Afghans Control Security President Obama says the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan could begin by July 2011, but America's top U.S. commander tells NPR winning over the Afghan people is the main goal of the new war strategy.
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McChrystal: 5 Years Before Afghans Control Security

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McChrystal: 5 Years Before Afghans Control Security

McChrystal: 5 Years Before Afghans Control Security

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is sketching out the way he wants to win. General Stanley McChrystal speaks of a long-term commitment to the country. As we heard last night on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, that commitment likely goes well beyond a 2011 date to start reducing troops.

STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: I think that we have offered a strategic partnership to the people of Afghanistan that guarantees them that we are there for them over time. And I think it's a number of years, and I won't a put a number on it, but it's a number of years.

MONTAGNE: This morning, we'll hear how the general wants to spend those years.

INSKEEP: Do you have a problem in that you obviously have the strength to go in take a town or take a valley, but holding it for end length of time with American troops is just too manpower intensive and perhaps even too difficult for foreigners to do over time?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think it is something you don't want to do with foreign troops any longer than you have to do. Cleary, we can go in and clear or take any piece of ground in Afghanistan on any given day we want, but it's really legitimacy with the Afghan people that's the driver here, and it's the ultimate measure of our success.

INSKEEP: Is this, in some very real sense, a political campaign?

MCCHRYSTAL: It's absolutely a political campaign. All insurgencies and counterinsurgencies are a struggle for the support of the people. To say it's winning the hearts and minds is overly simplistic. It's really winning credibility and legitimacy with the people. It's - for the government, it's convincing the people that they can provide for their basic needs, and that the people recognized that government as legitimate. The insurgent tries to undercut that and then they try to offer an alternative concept. The Taliban's weakness is they have a track record. They did govern Afghanistan, and they didn't do it very well.

INSKEEP: Is your side's weakness also that the Afghan government has a track record and is not seen as very credible in a lot of parts of the country?

MCCHRYSTAL: It's the biggest challenge. In fact, the government of Afghanistan has got to understand, and I think it does. But it needs to address the fact that it must be credible and legitimate. To the degree to which it struggles for that, it will remain difficult.

INSKEEP: How would you evaluate the quality of the Afghan security forces at this moment?

MCCHRYSTAL: Getting better all the time. The Afghan National Army, which was really reborn in 2002, is further along. The police need to go further. The largest number of casualties in this counterinsurgency are suffered by the Afghan National Police. Police are typically, like in any country, police are distributed around to provide protection for the population in small groups, and therefore you need a tremendous amount of - number of leaders so that you have leadership at every level.

INSKEEP: And you've got a shortage of Afghan leaders who are trained, don't you?

MCCHRYSTAL: We have a shortage of leaders who have been formally trained, and we need to continue develop discipline and processes so that they can make themselves better over time.

INSKEEP: How effective have the Taliban been at degrading the effectiveness of the Afghan National Police, whom you have mentioned just being specially under pressure?

MCCHRYSTAL: They have put a severe amount of pressure on the police, particularly in areas where security is immature. And so the police have borne the brunt of terrific amount of insurgent pressure, which increases police casualties, which makes it harder for the police to rebound. What we are doing now is we are partnering coalition forces with police in a much greater number of areas than we had before. Together, it's a symbiotic relationship. We think together, they're more effective.

INSKEEP: And in that formula, of course, you want to move more civilians into some of the areas that you clear. That, as I'm sure you know very well, was one of the great weak spots in Iraq. It was extraordinarily difficult to get foreign NGOs, foreign experts of any kind into any part of Iraq and keep them there for any length of time. Are you going to be able to protect people or even persuade outsiders that they could be protected so they'll show up? You're smiling as I say this.

MCCHRYSTAL: The partnership we have between military forces and the civilian elements of all kind is incredibly important. And it's actually very impressive in a tremendous number of areas, and it gets...

INSKEEP: Are you sure you're going to have the numbers of people in the most remote parts of the country that you need who can actually come in and that you can support?

MCCHRYSTAL: That's going to be one of our major efforts.

INSKEEP: I wonder if you have a back-of-the-envelope calculation - every civilian who goes in and tries to do development work is going to cost me a platoon, is going to cost me a company that's going to tied down in some way. Do you have a formula in your head for how much of your troops get tied down with those kinds of requirements?

MCCHRYSTAL: The more civilians we can get out, the more effective the overall effort's going to be. And so that's the way I think we measure it.

INSKEEP: In order to win, do you have to control all of Afghanistan?

MCCHRYSTAL: No, I don't think so. I think what we have got to do is get it to the point where the government of Afghanistan can protect its sovereignty. They don't have to control every square inch. What they have to do is control enough of the population, enough of the key production and lines of communications, and establish enough credibility and legitimacy so that the insurgency can't be an existential threat. Over time, then, of course, the insurgency loses relevance, and I think then the government of Afghanistan is where it needs to be to move forward.

INSKEEP: Well, general, thanks very much.

MCCHRYSTAL: Thanks Steve.

INSKEEP: You can read the full interview with General McChrystal at And tomorrow, we will hear one more piece of it. U.S. Marines say they are being restricted from killing insurgents. And we'll ask General McChrystal about the rules of engagement.

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