Gen. McChrystal Signals a New Approach in Afghanistan

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Army Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, President Obama's choice to lead the war in Afghanistan, said yesterday that violence and combat deaths will intensify as more U.S. troops surge into Taliban-held areas, but he vowed to execute a "holistic" strategy in which killing insurgents would be subordinate to safeguarding Afghan civilians.

McChrystal, a former Special Operations commander, pledged that if confirmed he will take extreme measures to avoid Afghan civilian casualties -- a problem that has long tarnished the U.S.-led military campaign -- putting civilians at risk only when necessary to save the lives of coalition troops.

"I expect stiff fighting ahead," McChrystal told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing yesterday. But, he added, "the measure of effectiveness will not be the number of enemy killed, it will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence."

To reduce civilian casualties, McChrystal said, he would review all rules of engagement, limit airstrikes and use more small ground units in search and detention operations.

In his first public testimony before a congressional committee, McChrystal, a longtime Army Ranger who has spent most of the past six years commanding secretive manhunt units in Iraq and Afghanistan, took pains to emphasize the broader counterinsurgency goals of improving security and governance for Afghans.

Still, when asked to describe "success" in Afghanistan, McChrystal said the first component would be "a complete elimination of al-Qaeda" from Pakistan and Afghanistan. That, in turn, would prevent al-Qaeda from operating in either country with the Taliban, which he said would not be "destroyed" but rather made "irrelevant."

Facing some grilling from lawmakers on his background, McChrystal acknowledged failings related to the use of harsh interrogation tactics by service members under his command, as well as his controversial approval of a combat medal for Army Cpl. Pat Tillman, a well-known football player who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004.

Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) asked whether McChrystal's forces, elite troops who were part of counterterrorism task forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, had employed harsh interrogation methods under a policy described in a 2002 memo by then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"That policy included the aggressive acts that I described -- stress positions, use of dogs and nudity. Is that correct?" Levin asked.

"Sir, it did. We did not use all of the things that were outlined there," McChrystal said. "Some of them were used when I took over, sir."

Pressed by Levin, McChrystal said he was uncomfortable with the techniques. "We immediately began to reduce that" after he took charge in October 2003, he said.

Regarding Tillman, McChrystal said he erred in not carefully reviewing the Silver Star citation, which he said was "not well written" and could have left the impression that Tillman was not killed by fratricide. The award "produced confusion at a tragic time, and I'm very sorry for that," he said. "We failed the family. And I was a part of that."

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