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U.S. Nominee For Afghan Command Calls War 'Winnable'

Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal is slated to assume the Afghan command post from General David McKiernan.
WASHINGTON (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Army general nominated by President Barack Obama to take over command of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, has told a Senate panel that the war can be won with a "classic counterinsurgency strategy."

McChrystal told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "there is no simple answer" and that multiple challenges threaten the future of Afghanistan -- including a resilient Taliban insurgency, lack of governance capacity, persistent corruption, and illicit narcotics. He said he expected "stiff fighting ahead."

"We must conduct a holistic counterinsurgency campaign and we must do it well," McChrystal said. "Success will not be quick or easy. Casualties will likely increase. We will make mistakes. Commitment and continued support of this committee, Congress and the American people will be vital. With the appropriate resources, time, sacrifice and patience, we can prevail."

If confirmed, McChrystal will replace General David McKiernan, who was unexpectedly fired by Defense Secretary Robert Gates on May 11.

More Than Military

McChrystal's experience is in the area of special operations, a highly secret branch of the military that goes after high-value targets using unconventional warfare. Although he is currently at a desk job, as director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, McChrystal spent considerable time in Iraq leading special operations forces in the hunt for terrorists.

In his testimony, McChrystal stressed the need for adequate resources and said a military-centric strategy will not be enough win the war. He told the panel that he didn't know if the 21,000 additional U.S. military personnel who would deploy to Afghanistan by October of this year would be enough.

U.S. soldiers at the site of a bomb attack in Afghanistan's Kapisa Province in late May
As part of Obama's integrated military-civilian strategy, the State Department and agencies like USAID are training and deploying additional civilian personnel with governance and development expertise.

McChrystal described his philosophy of counterinsurgency as one that takes into account the nuances of deadly fighting among a culturally rich local population. He cautioned that "how you operate, the impact of civilian casualties, collateral damage, cultural insensitivity, and the inherent complexities involved in separating insurgents from the population often determine success or failure."

'Critical Point' For Afghans

As commander, McChrystal told senators, he would lead his forces in precise and disciplined operations with the goal of minimizing casualties and damage, adding that doing so "may be the critical point [in] the struggle for the support of the Afghan people."

In an exchange with Senator Jack Reed (Democrat, Rhode Island), about how exactly he would achieve that, McChrystal said he would review U.S. and allied operating procedures and noted that additional surveillance and intelligence aircraft would help allied air attacks more precisely target enemy forces.

McChrystal described the need to protect Afghan civilians as part of a larger goal of creating an environment where they are free to operate fully as citizens.

"Central to counterinsurgency is protecting the people -- efforts to convince Afghans to confer legitimacy on their government are only relevant if Afghans are free to choose," McChrystal said. "They must be shielded from coercion while their elected government secures their trust through effective governance and economic development at all levels. This must be Afghanistan's effort, with our committed support."

Obama's nominee also expressed his satisfaction with recent progress the Pakistani army has made against Taliban insurgents. The Obama administration's new regional strategy -- widely referred to as "Af-Pak" -- treats the insurgencies in both countries as a common threat, even though there are no U.S. forces fighting in Pakistan.

Asked by Senator Lindsay Graham (Republican, South Carolina) what the consequences of losing the fight in Afghanistan would be, McChrystal predicted civil war.