Exclusive: Gen. McChrystal Goes on Patrol in 'Taliban Vacation Spot'

ABC News patrols with top U.S. general in Taliban infested area.

ByABC News
March 26, 2010, 9:35 AM

BULA MUGHAB, Afghanistan March 26, 2010— -- "I'm an old guy, but I'll try not to get in the way," said the soldier, addressing a group of Afghan, American and Italian troops in this small, green district near Afghanistan's western border. Some of them chuckled.

"You're in charge. I'm the junior guy here," he added, to a few more chuckles, but mostly blank stares.

"OK? Let's go."

And so started a common foot patrol with a very uncommon guest: Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the four star commander of all American and international troops in Afghanistan and one of the army's most decorated soldiers.

He had come here, an area that is partially controlled by the Taliban, to do what the 125,000 foreign troops currently in Afghanistan do so often every few hours, every day: take a walk through a population center to show that their presence is constant, hopefully keeping the militants and criminals who used to run this place away from the local population.

ABC News was invited to accompany McChrystal on his walking patrol, a rare but not uncommon event. He recently patrolled west of Kandahar City, but had never before invited media with him.

"There's always a frustration that you can't do it as often as you want," McChrystal said about the chance to get onto the front lines, which in this case were chalky, thin alleyways of dust surrounded by high mud walls.

"If you don't go do it, you do risk forgetting exactly what [the troops] are doing. And it's important for me to look them in the eye and understand, as best you can, what they're thinking," he said. "It's also important for them to have me do it. I realize this probably isn't the most dangerous foot patrol going on today, but the willingness to come out is important, I believe."

McChrystal has been here twice before, but Bula Murghab has not been a priority for him or United States troops. Western Afghanistan is led by the Italians and is still, as McChrystal himself admitted, an "economy of force operation."

In this district center that translates to just a few hundred American, Italian, and Afghan troops trying to clear and hold what some troops recently joked to a visiting reporter was a "Taliban vacation spot." There are not enough foreign troops here to secure the entire area, nor will they be many more coming anytime soon.