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McChrystal Pitches U.S. Strategy In Afghanistan

MICHELE NORRIS host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan wasted no time today laying out President Obama's revised strategy to his colleagues and to Afghan officials. Shortly after the president's speech, General Stanley McChyrstal briefed his top commanders. Then, he and the U.S. ambassador went to the presidential palace to meet with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. General McChrystal acknowledged that it's going to take a lot more than words to persuade Afghans that the new strategy can bring peace.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was with the general in Kabul today.

General STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL (U.S. Commander, Afghanistan): We have a level of commitment that we've not had before. And that will change everything.

NELSON: This upbeat assessment, delivered by video conference in Kabul to his top commanders, was one General McChyrstal hammered home many times today. It was an attempt to ease the mounting concern in the West and in Afghanistan about the direction the war is taking. McChyrstal predicted that 30,000 new American troops and an anticipated 5,000 new NATO ones, partnered with Afghan soldiers and police, will make a huge difference in securing Afghanistan's population centers. He says he plans to partner most of the new Western arrivals with Afghan forces. The goal, McChyrstal explained, is to bolster Afghan soldiers' and police officers' hands-on experience in order to hasten the handover of the country's security responsibilities to them. If President Obama has his way, that handover would begin in 18 months.

Gen. MCCHRYSTAL: But it is important, and it isn't easy. And there will be a lot of people who will question whether we can do it; there were some who will question whether we should do it. But nobody should question, from today on, whether we will do it.

NELSON: The video conference, at NATO headquarters in Kabul, was his first stop today of what was supposed to have been an Afghanistan-wide tour by the four-star general. He wanted to outline in person for the 100,000 international troops already in Afghanistan how the new Obama strategy will play out. Bad weather grounded his helicopter and forced him to cancel three of the four stops, but he did meet with Afghan military and government officials in Kabul.

Unidentified Group: (Speaking Foreign Language)

NELSON: Like with Lieutenant General Shir Karimi, the Afghan army's chief of operations. He, like most Afghan officials, approves of the new strategy.

Lieutenant General SHIR KARIMI (Army Chief, Afghanistan): I think it is a very committed document that states and clearly defines everybody's responsibility on our side, on the NATO-ISAF side. Now, everybody has to work on that as a team and try to succeed, and also achieve the objectives that are set for us.

NELSON: But Interior Minister Hanif Atmar expressed concern about the 18-month timeline set by President Obama. Atmar says it will take a lot longer to train and equip a properly sized Afghan police force.

Mr. HANIF ATMAR (Interior Minister, Afghanistan): In 18 months, we will not be able to grow it as much as required, given the security needs of the country. Hopefully, as I discussed it with General McChyrstal a little while ago - for the second time - that we will have flexibility on the issue of planning for the strategic issues such as leadership, training, equipment and facilities, regardless of the one year or one and half years' time frame.

NELSON: McChrystal acknowledged it will take four years, at least, to build Afghan national security forces to the levels needed here, and that he will have to persuade Afghans that new American and NATO troops are here to boost Afghan security forces, and not strengthen the Western hold here. It's something McChrystal says Karzai told him of when they met this morning. Kabul radio host Masood Sanjar agrees. He says he wants to see Afghan police and soldiers in the lead on the battlefield, not Western troops.

Mr. MASOOD SANJAR (Radio Host): They really have to support the police and the national army, so the Afghans can take the responsibility, take the accountability, so people can trust them.

NELSON: That trust is something McChrystal says the coalition and Afghan government have to work on building together in the coming months.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.