By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 10, 2009 - Among the many factors White House and Pentagon officials say will drive success in Afghanistan, developing a credible government there may be the most challenging, the commander of U.S. and international forces there said yesterday. For sustained progress in Afghanistan, the country's government must be seen as credible and legitimate among its people, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal said in an interview with National Public Radio.
The general compared the fight in Afghanistan to a political campaign. "All insurgencies and counterinsurgencies struggle for the support of the people," he said. "It's really winning credibility and legitimacy with the people."
Afghanistan's government must prove it can provide the basic, essential needs for the population while discrediting the Taliban, the general said, but he added that neither has a very good history with the people. The Taliban ruled the country from 1996 to 2001 under Sharia law, before NATO forces ousted the Sunni Muslim regime.
"The Taliban's weakness is they have a track record," McChrystal said. "They did govern Afghanistan, and they didn't do it very well."
But Afghanistan's government, led by President Hamid Karzai, has been seen as increasingly corrupt. McChrystal said changing the government's image is the biggest challenge.
"The government of Afghanistan has got to understand, and I think it does, it needs to address the fact it must be credible and legitimate," he said. "To the degree to which it struggles with that, it will remain difficult."
The fight for credibility involves civilian support as well as military might. Afghan army and police are getting better every day, the general said, but the police force lacks sufficiently trained leaders. This, coupled with the increasing stress the Taliban have placed on Afghan police, has been troublesome, he added.
"[The Taliban] have put a severe amount of pressure on the police, particularly where security is immature, so police have borne the brunt of a terrific amount of insurgent pressure, which increases police casualties, which makes it harder for the police to rebound," he said. "[But] what we are doing now is we are partnering coalition forces with police in a much greater number of areas than we have before. Together, it's a symbiotic relationship. Together, we're more effective."
President Barack Obama's initial order for more U.S. troops in March helped greatly in the training mission, McChrystal said. Those 21,000 troops were able to extend the coalition reach to parts of the country that hasn't had much interaction with international forces.
The recently announced surge of 30,000 U.S. troops along with 7,000-plus additional NATO forces will further that effort, he added. The larger U.S. and NATO footprint will help to connect more Afghans with their government and security forces, he said.
However, McChrystal said, he doesn't think the Afghan government needs to control the entire country to be successful. Afghanistan's government needs to reach the point of protecting its sovereignty without being threatened by extremists, he said.
"They don't have to control every square inch," he explained. "What they have to do is control enough of the population, enough of the key production and lines of communication and establish enough credibility and legitimacy so the insurgency can't be a threat."
The general added that over time, the insurgency will become less relevant, and that Afghanistan is now in the best position to move forward.