Wednesday, August 12, 2009

McChrystal: Give Taliban Fighters A Political Voice

The American commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan says he is comfortable with the prospect of lower-level Taliban commanders and fighters rejoining the country's political process.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal's comments come a day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed that if he is re-elected for a second term, he will invite the Taliban to lay down their weapons and join him in a loya jirga, or grand assembly of tribal chiefs; Afghanistan's elections are scheduled for Aug. 20.

McChrystal tells Renee Montagne that the average Taliban fighter is not ideologically driven and is paid for his work. He says Karzai is looking for an opportunity to give these fighters and even lower-level commanders a seat at the table.

"I would absolutely be comfortable with fighters and lower-level commanders making the decision to reintegrate into the Afghan political process under the Afghan constitution," McChrystal says.

Assessment Of War
McChrystal is due to present to President Obama an assessment of the war effort in Afghanistan in which he is expected to request more U.S. troops on the ground. He says data points such as levels of violence and casualties have been considered, but are fairly superficial.

The report, McChrystal says, will also try to measure those areas where insurgents have influence, where they may have established shadow governments, the growth of Afghan national security forces and polling data from population.

"At the end of the day, a counterinsurgency is often based on what the people feel about security rather than strict numbers of incidents or whatever. ... It's incredibly complex to put together a clear picture," he says.

Upcoming Election

Security efforts have ensured that the vast percentage of people in the major population centers can vote in the upcoming elections, McChrystal says. He says he asked that this assessment be delayed so he would be informed by the results of the vote.

"I thought it was just such a data point that my overall read of the situation here would be much better if I could have that in the rearview mirror to look at," he says. "It [the election] will be significant, but it won't be overwhelming. ... If the election goes better than expected, or somewhat worse than expected, I don't think it will change my assessment dramatically; it will just inform it."

McChrystal acknowledges, however, that the fight in Afghanistan will not only be difficult, but will take time.

"We will ... have to deal through good and bad days, and good and bad months, and that's the tragedy of seeing so many Afghan civilians killed or so many coalition forces killed," he says. "This is a job that takes not only resolve, it takes patience and it takes courage. ... There's not the sudden lightning move that captures an enemy capital or anything like that. You're actually fighting to convince people to support their government."

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