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McChrystal Predicts Hard Road Ahead in Afghanistan

Army Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, tapped to take command of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, faced questions on his leadership plans at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. Analysts take a look at his qualifications for the post.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Next tonight, a look at the new commander in Afghanistan. We start with a report by NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The Army general chosen to run the Afghanistan war says it can be won with a hard-fought campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida.

  • LT. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, U.S. Army:

    The challenge is considerable.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal made that point before the Senate Armed Services Committee, meeting today to take up his nomination as Afghanistan commander, along with two other top military appointments.

  • LT. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL:

    There is no simple answer. We must conduct a holistic counterinsurgency campaign, and we must do it well. Success will not be quick or easy. Casualties will likely increase. We will make mistakes.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    McChrystal comes to the job with experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. He led the Joint Special Operations Command, a varied collection of special forces assets which operates very much in secret.

    In Iraq, McChrystal's units were responsible for well-known successes, including the capture of Saddam Hussein, and his troops hunted down and killed al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

    But they also rounded up and held Iraqis by the dozens in intelligence-gathering operations. Some of those detentions and interrogations have come under scrutiny.

    Today, the general said he recognized mistakes and made this promise.

  • LT. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL:

    If confirmed, I will strictly enforce the high standards of detainee treatment consistent with international and U.S. law.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The senators did not dwell on that issue, but the general did take pointed questions about his role in recommending Corporal Pat Tillman, a famous football player, for a Silver Star in combat while evidence was growing that Tillman actually was killed by friendly fire in 2004.

    SEN. JAMES WEBB (D), Virginia: I regretfully say I think that the Army really failed the Tillman family.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Virginia Democrat Jim Webb asked McChrystal if he understood that the Tillman family felt misled by the military.

  • LT. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL:

    We failed the family. And I was a part of that, and I apologize for it. My own mistakes in not reviewing the Silver Star citation well enough and making sure that I compared it to the message that I sent were mistakes. They were well intentioned, but they created, they added to the doubt and the sense of mistrust. And we didn't get it right.

    What we have learned since is, it is better to take your time, make sure you get everything right with the award, and not rush it. And I'm very sorry for that, because I understand that the outcome produced a perception that I don't believe was at all involved, at least in the forces that were for it.

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: And you believe that Corporal Tillman earned the Silver Star by his actions before he died?

  • LT. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL:

    Sir, I absolutely do. I did then; I do now.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The general said, while the U.S. builds up its troop presence in Afghanistan this summer to nearly 70,000, significantly larger numbers of Afghan police and soldiers are required, as well. He did not pinpoint how many or at what cost.

    SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), South Carolina: The American people need to understand that we're about to build 150,000-, 160,000-man Afghan army, which I think is the key to getting home, but we're going to wind up paying for it.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham.

  • SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

    Now, everyone has asked about winning. Tell me the consequence of losing in Afghanistan or Pakistan, General McChrystal.

  • LT. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL:

    It would break down into civil war. There would be — I don't believe that the Taliban would take over Afghanistan. I think it would go back to what it was before 2001, and that would be an ongoing civil war before different factions. I believe that al-Qaida would have the ability to move back into Afghanistan, and I cannot imagine why they would not do that.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    But the general expressed hope that the U.S., as it did in Iraq, might split the ranks of the insurgents and possibly peel off elements of the Taliban from al-Qaida.

    Throughout, McChrystal stressed that success in Afghanistan depended on decreasing civilian casualties and increasing local support for the allies and the Afghan government.

  • LT. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL:

    This is a critical point. It may be the critical point. This is a struggle for the support of the Afghan people. Our willingness to operate in ways that minimize casualties or damage, even when doing so makes our task more difficult, is essential to our credibility.

    I cannot overstate my commitment to the importance of this concept. Although I expect stiff fighting ahead, the measure of effectiveness will not be enemy killed. It will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Still, McChrystal said his counterinsurgency plan would continue to use air strikes and special operations, pledging the attacks would be as "precise as possible." The general said it is critical to make progress in Afghanistan in the next 18 to 24 months.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Margaret Warner has more.

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