Afghanistan — Afghan Perceptions Key to Success, McChrystal Says

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2010 — Chang­ing the per­cep­tions of the Afghan peo­ple about the coali­tion, their own gov­ern­ment and the Tal­iban will be key to suc­cess in that nation, the com­man­der of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force and U.S. forces in Afghanistan said here today.

Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal told Pen­ta­gon reporters that achiev­ing more progress in the coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paign in Afghanistan will be a slow, delib­er­ate endeav­or, because chang­ing per­cep­tions is chal­leng­ing.

Efforts in the coun­try will be direct­ed toward “chang­ing not only the dynam­ics of secu­ri­ty, gov­er­nance and devel­op­ment, but also the atti­tudes of a pop­u­la­tion long pres­sured by insur­gents,” he said.

The strate­gic pri­or­i­ty in the coun­try is the devel­op­ment of Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces, McChrys­tal said. “While both the army and police have demon­strat­ed con­sid­er­able growth,” he said, “sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges remain. The bot­tom line is there’s much more work ahead to mature Afghan secu­ri­ty forces. But I’m pleased with the progress made thus far.” The oper­a­tional cen­ter in the coun­try will be in south­ern Afghanistan, the gen­er­al said. The area – includ­ing Kan­da­har and Hel­mand provinces – is the hub for the insur­gents and an eco­nom­ic engine for the coun­try as a whole.

“Ten months ago, we began a series of oper­a­tions into Tal­iban-con­trolled parts of the cen­tral Hel­mand Riv­er val­ley, expand­ing the Afghan government’s influ­ence in key areas,” McChrys­tal said. “There’s been con­sid­er­able progress in secu­ri­ty and gov­er­nance. But as is expect­ed in coun­terin­sur­gency, progress is often slow and delib­er­ate.”

The oper­a­tional fight will be cen­tered in and around Kan­da­har city. The gen­er­al said there will not be a “D‑Day” for the oper­a­tions to begin in the city, because it is a unique­ly com­plex envi­ron­ment that requires as much gov­ern­men­tal and polit­i­cal pres­sure as mil­i­tary involve­ment.

“This effort is being led by the Afghans, and will focus on the com­plex polit­i­cal and gov­er­nance aspects of Kan­da­har,” McChrys­tal told reporters.

While Kan­da­har is the spir­i­tu­al home of the Tal­iban, the insur­gents do not con­trol the city. McChrys­tal said he and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus – the com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand – walked through the streets of Kan­da­har two weeks ago. Still, he added, the Tal­iban are tar­get­ing local offi­cials for assas­si­na­tion, and insur­gents are intim­i­dat­ing peo­ple.

Many insur­gen­cies use tar­get­ed assas­si­na­tions as a way to intim­i­date the pop­u­la­tion and under­cut the abil­i­ty of the gov­ern­ment to estab­lish effec­tive mech­a­nisms, McChrys­tal explained. “That’s what I think we’re see­ing here,” he said. “Cer­tain­ly, some of those mur­ders may be crim­i­nal­ly relat­ed, but there is a clear insur­gent thrust to the pri­ma­ry part of this.”

Engag­ing the pop­u­la­tion is the way to counter this group of ter­ror­ist thugs, McChrys­tal said, explain­ing that the coali­tion must engage the nat­ur­al lead­ers – trib­al elders and polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic lead­ers – so that their par­tic­i­pa­tion helps shape the vision, and so they clear­ly buy into Afghan gov­ern­ment and coali­tion ini­tia­tives. The gen­er­al began shap­ing oper­a­tions with Kan­da­har lead­ers months ago. “This is some­thing that’s ongo­ing, and it’s a process, not an event,” he said.

The process will take time, and Amer­i­cans should expect increased vio­lence as the coali­tion and Afghan secu­ri­ty forces expand into Tal­iban-con­trolled areas, McChrys­tal said. “Over time,” he added, “secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ties will tran­si­tion to Afghans.”

Coun­terin­sur­gency efforts are long-term and depend more on process, not a sud­den event, the gen­er­al said. Coali­tion and Afghan troops enter­ing an area have to secure it, and then the Afghan gov­ern­ment – with coali­tion help – must deliv­er basic ser­vices to the peo­ple – edu­ca­tion, health, trans­port, elec­tric­i­ty, water and so on.

“It’s halt­ing and it’s chal­leng­ing,” McChrys­tal said. “In areas where there has been very lit­tle capac­i­ty before, to intro­duce that is hard. And to con­vince the peo­ple is even hard­er, because they watch the change in secu­ri­ty, they watch the begin­nings of gov­er­nance, the begin­nings of devel­op­ment, and they have to … see it to believe it. “But they can’t just see it once,” he con­tin­ued. “They have to see it until they believe it’s durable, until they believe it’s real.”

In talk­ing with Afghan groups, McChrys­tal said, he is sure they want to be con­vinced.

“I think that that is the chal­lenge over time,” he said. “It’s real­ly a gov­ern­ment-of-Afghanistan chal­lenge, with our help. They must con­vince the peo­ple they have the capa­bil­i­ty to deliv­er, and then the polit­i­cal will to fol­low through.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)