McChrystal: 'A New Clarity of Mission' in Afghanistan

General McChrystal gave rousing speech in response to strategy announcement.

December 2, 2009, 7:10 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 2, 2009— -- Gen. Stanley McChrystal today welcomed President Obama's announcement that he would send more troops to Afghanistan.

The U.S. commander also told reporters that Afghan President Hamid Karzai supported the decision. "The president was very upbeat, very resolute this morning," he said.

In a confident but sometimes sobering address to his commanders around the country this morning, McChrystal said he believes that the war in Afghanistan is at a turning point.

Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, he said, "I don't think we're at the end, or the beginning of the end. We're at the end of the beginning." He asked for a moment of silence for the war's dead and injured.

He then gave his commanders a rousing pep-talk, saying the president's speech had given them a "new clarity of mission...providing their Afghan partners with the time, space and capability to defend their country."

"Success is defined by the people. In counter-insurgency, it's about what people think at the end of the day...there will be more long nights, more long days, more memorial services...but also more Afghans with a chance."

Speaking off-camera later to reporters, McChrystal said, "The challenges are significant. There's no way to get around that. Sometimes it looks almost insurmountable, but it isn't."

McChrystal indicated that while he supported the timeline he was keen to stress that it was far from absolute. "It's not an 18 months and everybody leaves. The president has expressed on numerous occasions a long-term strategic partnership with Afghanistan and that includes all manners of assistance. So the concept is as ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] capacity rises, the requirement for coalition military forces goes down."

Talking about the troop numbers he seemed happy with the 30,000 the president has agreed to. "I think it is sufficient…it's exactly what we need." However, he quietly chided NATO countries: "I'm hoping all the coalition partners will look and see what they can do to expand their capabilities."

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen issued a statement today in response to Obama's announcement suggesting that NATO members would meet these responsibilities: "As the U.S. increases its commitment, I am confident that the other allies, as well as our partners in the mission, will also make a substantial increase in their contribution."

As he has done in the past, McChrystal emphasized the importance of training up the Afghan forces. He says within 6-8 months, you won't see a coalition unit that's not partnered with Afghans. However, he said the timeline for training up Afghan forces hasn't changed.

"It will take at least four years by our computation" to get to the magic number of 240,000 Afghan National Army and 160,000 Afghan National Police.

Mchrystal hopes this surge in troops will enable the Afghan government to act and provide an infrastructure that will make it harder for the Taliban to operate. "If the Taliban melted away and left the people alone for 18 months or longer, in fact what would happen in my view is the capacity of the Afghan government through its security forces but also local governance and development would make it much more difficult for insurgents returning to contest that. The insurgent cannot afford to leave the battlefield while the government of Afghanistan expands its capability, expands its legitimacy, expands its control."

But he added that he doesn't think the mission of his forces will be to wipe out the Taliban, more to turn the Afghans away from joining them. "If we can improve basic elements of life like freedom of movement, like rule of law, like local government, then often the reasons that a local Taliban fighter joins are taken away," he said.

"So in fact we don't want to wipe out Taliban fighters, what we want to do is convince Taliban fighters. Now there are some Taliban that are probably very difficult to convince, very hardcore ideologues, or people with certain agenda but the vast majority do not in my assessment fall into that category."

In his address McChrystal acknowledges that the winning over of Afghan "hearts and minds" is a major part of his counter-insurgency strategy.

"The challenge in counter-insurgency again is in people's minds. There is a strict military aspect. There are force ratios…but mostly it's in people's minds," he said.

"So our task ahead is to take the additional forces we've got and to partner with the Afghans to convince both the Afghan government and Afghan security forces so they have the confidence to do this but also to convince the insurgents that they cannot do this and they lose the people to contest and control. And then most importantly, to convince the people in the middle that the government's going to be able to do this."

American soldiers ABC News spoke to in Afghanistan also welcomed the president's speech, and the 30,000 more troops.

"We're encouraged because more troops only means more people to help advise the Afghans and to get them where they need to be so that ultimately we can all go home." Sargeant Rob Brooks said.

"It's been long awaited. We do need it here. We are overworked and under staffed," Eric Wood, a staff sergeant for Platoon Sergeant for Security Forces told us, clearly relieved by the news.

Still, questions remain about how quickly Afghan security forces will be ready to assume a leading role.

"It's essential that we give them all the tools that they need to be successful. So they will be able to stand on their own," Chief Master Sgt. David R. Henry said.

Afghans were similarly concerned about the state of their army, "if they want Afghanistan to stand on its feet they should concentrate on Afghan National Army because currently the equipments of ANA aren't that good," Mohammed Amin, a student from Kabul University, told ABC News, "with this equipment they are not even able to fight the Taliban."

Some were also upbeat about the announcement, "if they are coming to bring security and help the people of Afghanistan it is very good for all I agree with extra troops." 21 year old Hafizullah Haikalyar said.

The Taliban issued its own reaction through a spokesman today, not surprisingly condemning Obama's plan, saying it is 'no solution for Afghanistan.'

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