Gen. Stanley McChrystal says he is not discouraged by estimates that there are many more al Qaeda fighters in Yemen than there are in Afghanistan where he is overseeing a major surge in U.S. troops.
McChrystal, America's top general in Afghanistan, was reacting to a question from ABC's "World News" anchor Diane Sawyer who cited intelligence estimates that there are only 100 al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan while there are as many as 300 in Yemen.
"I don't think that this war's in the wrong place," McChrystal said in his exclusive interview with Sawyer. "I think that the Afghan people both need and deserve this assistance."
McChrystal said al Qaeda, which launched the 9/11 attacks from its Afghan bases in 2001, has demonstrated it intends to "try to come back in to Afghanistan if in fact there is that opportunity with a Taliban regime or ungoverned basis. I think it's incredibly important. I think the president laid that out pretty clearly."
Watch Diane Sawyer's full interview with Gen. Stanley McChrystal as Sawyer anchors "World News" from Kabul tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET.
The most recent terror attacks on the U.S. have originated in Yemen, including the bungled "underwear bombing" of a Northwest jetliner over Detroit on Christmas day.
Nevertheless, President Obama stated over the weekend that he has no intention of sending U.S. troops to Yemen or to Somalia, another lawless country where al Qaeda is trying to establish bases.
McChrystal had argued to Obama last year that without a quick infusion of U.S. troops the chances of a victory in Afghanistan would be lost. Obama authorized 30,000 troops and the flow of fresh forces is just underway, but McChrystal said it has already blunted Taliban momentum and is turning the tide against the insurgents.
The general said he believes he is making good on his promise of a "quantum shift" on the battlefield.
"I believe we're doing that now. I believe that we have changed the way we operate in Afghanistan. We changed some of our structures and I believe that we are on the way to convincing the Afghan people that we are here to protect them," he told Sawyer.
"We've been at this for about seven months now and I believe we've made progress. It's not a completed mission yet," he said.
McChrystal cited as evidence a meeting he recently held in a river valley in Helmand province, an area where the Taliban has been strong and was one of the first targets of the American offensive.
"When I sit in an area that the Taliban controlled only seven months ago and now you meet with a shura of elders and they describe with considerable optimism the future, you sense the tide is turning," he said.
The bulk of the surge forces won't arrive in Afghanistan until the end of this summer. When all of the troops are deployed, the number of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan will be close to 98,000.
He suggested that the Taliban is feeling the pressure and some elements of the insurgency are willing to consider an end to their attacks and negotiate with the government of President Hamid Karzai.
"I can't speak for [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar. He's indicated no willingness, but I can certainly say that within his organization there are constant reverberations of interest in doing that," McChrystal said.