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Donna Miles - American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 2, 2010 - As more U.S. and coalition troops arrive in Afghanistan, their top commander there has some requests for them: Recognize the impact of every action you take, and serve as role models for Afghan security forces as they build leaders and weed out corruption from their ranks.
Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal urged troops to keep a clear-eyed focus on the mission and to be cognizant that it's not about conventional warfare.
"This is not that. This is a war for the people," McChrystal said during an interview with Soldiers Radio and Television reporter Gail McCabe. "It is both to protect them and in that process, to win their support for their government."
Noting the "crisis of confidence" that had gripped the Afghan people, McChrystal said the mission now is to rebuild confidence in the Afghan government and the coalition and Afghan security forces supporting it.
"You can't do that through smoke and mirrors," he said. "You have to do that through real things you do."
U.S. and coalition troops will be most effective if they keep the objective in mind as they operate, McChrystal said. That includes being judicious about the use of force to reduce civilian casualties and other collateral damage.
U.S. forces "have the right and responsibility to use whatever assets they need" to protect themselves and their comrades, he emphasized. But beyond that, he urged them to "look at the wider picture" and the impact of what they do.
"If we can't win [the Afghans'] support, we can't succeed," he said. "So every action we take ... has to be put in that context."
Praising the Afghan security forces, which "fight and die bravely" while "doing extraordinary things," McChrystal said the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police still need to develop more leaders.
"They have great leaders, but not enough great leaders," he said, noting that U.S. and NATO trainers embedded with the Afghan national security forces will speed up the leader development process.
McChrystal also expressed hope that these forces will help the Afghans stem the problem of corruption within the ranks. "It is absolutely a cancer that will kill the force if it is not dealt with. The leaders know that," he said. "They want to go after it and we want to support them in any way we can."
McChrystal went so far as to call corruption the greatest threat facing the Afghan government. "It is greater in my view, probably, than the insurgency, although the insurgency is more immediate, more obvious," he said. "Corruption is more corrosive."
He urged U.S. and coalition troops to serve as models of integrity as they work with the Afghans, and to point out corruption and take action when they see it.
"Be an example. Use every different method to teach, to cajole and to report," he said. "We are not supposed to stand there and see corruption and not report it. We have to shine a light on it."
The Afghans ultimately must be the ones to eliminate corruption, McChrystal said. "We can't solve it. They have to solve it," he said. "But we have to provide the help; we have to provide the pressure, the support to go after it."
Almost a year into his post, McChrystal said he believes his team "is getting its stride" and building the personal and professional relationships as well as the credibility needed to carry out the U.S. strategy.
Success in Afghanistan, he said, ultimately will be measured through the Afghans' freedom to choose the kind of country they want, without insurgents impacting their lives on a daily basis and dominating their government's focus.
"Then, I think for us, we will have been successful," McChrystal said. "Our Afghan partners, at that point, will absolutely be able to deal with it."