The new man in Kabul is General Stanley McChrystal, a lanky, 55-year-old ascetic who prides himself on eating only one meal a day to avoid drowsiness and who gets by with only a few hours of sleep every night. Until now, McChrystal tended to be involved with the darker side of the military business. He commanded covert US special forces operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for five years. His men were the ones who hunted down former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before capturing him in a hole in the ground. McChrystal also gave the order to kill Iraqi al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
According to insiders with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, the general has been given one year to achieve initial successes in Afghanistan, and two years to produce a turnaround. Political support cannot be maintained for longer than that. That's why McChrystal now plans to revise the logic of the war, changing the US forces' objective from fighting the enemy to providing security for Afghans.
"Why did this happen?" the general asks in his morning meeting in Kabul after learning that civilians were injured or killed the night before. His soldiers have orders to withdraw rather than risk killing innocent people in a gun battle. McChrystal wants them to rethink the approach, and in fact to adopt a new way of thinking.
That will be difficult, says McChrystal, because the Taliban "are gaining ground." His favorite concept these days is "deep partnering." He wants his soldiers to stop isolating themselves behind barbed wire and walls, and the international troops to get out of the cities and go into the villages. And he wants his GIs, from generals to privates, to train, fight, eat and live next to Afghan security forces. "Where we go we will stay," he says.
This roughly reflects the language of the US military's new field manual, "Tactics in Counterinsurgency," written for company, battalion and brigade commanders. The volume sums up the bitter lessons from the Iraq war.
Since McChrystal has taken over, the number of enemy fighters killed in battle is no longer released. "We will not win based on the number of Taliban we kill, but instead on our ability to separate insurgence from the center of gravity -- the people," McChrystal wrote in one of his first commands. Naturally the general continues to send special units to hunt down and eliminate senior Taliban leaders.
After driving 12 kilometers (7 miles), Captain Tart and his unit have reached a mud farmhouse in the desert. There are several outbuildings, the sand-colored roofs are shaped like domes, and red hollyhocks are blooming in the garden. Two men are sitting in front of the house, and everything seems peaceful.
The informant who led Tart to the farm, a Pashtun with a gaunt face and thin beard, quickly disappears. The farm is supposed to be a hiding place for opium, and the Marines find packets of drugs in holes in the cellar and hidden between double walls. The two men in front of the house, a young man and an older man, claim that they just happen to be here to do work in the garden.
It is already dark, and yet the thermometer still indicates 30 degrees Celsius. Captain Tart has already collected 600 kilograms (1,320 pounds) of opium, with a market value of more than $100,000 in Afghanistan. The identity of the owner of the drugs remains unclear.