The commander of coalition and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, says the deterioration of the security situation in the country, which he cited four months ago, has stopped. The general says with the revised strategy President Barack Obama announced in December and more allied troops flowing in, there is an "inevitability" about the Afghan and coalition effort to take the country back from the Taliban.
General McChrystal got into some trouble last year when, in the midst of the Obama Administration's Afghanistan policy review he said the situation was deteriorating and the coalition risked failure if it did not send more troops. Now, after several months of increasing focus on the security of the Afghan people and with an additional 30,000 U.S. and several thousand NATO troops beginning to flow in, he has a different view.
"I still will tell you that I believe the situation in Afghanistan is serious. I do not say now that I think it's deteriorating. I said that last summer and I believe that that was correct. I feel differently now," he said.
General McChrystal emphasized that he does not believe the allied effort in Afghanistan has "turned a corner," and he said specifically the coalition is "not winning." But he said it made "significant progress" last year and set the stage for even more progress this year.
Still, the general says he can not yet point to statistics to support his belief. He says it is more of an "intuitive" feeling.
"I'm not prepared to draw it on a map. I'm not prepared to give you numbers. But I'm prepared to tell you that what I see and what I feel gives me that sense," he added.
General McChrystal says success in Afghanistan is something that is difficult to measure.
"This is all a war of perceptions. This is not a physical war in terms of how many people you kill, how much ground you capture, how many bridges you blow up," he explained. "This is all in the minds of the participants. And I mean, the Afghan people are the most important, but the insurgents are another one. You're just convincing people," said McChrystal.
And the general says that includes convincing coalition members and the Afghan security forces that their effort against the Taliban can succeed.
Earlier this week, the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, said he believes the Taliban is still gaining ground in Afghanistan. General McChrystal acknowledges the Taliban is making a major effort to expand its influence, but he says the coalition and the Afghan government are, too. The general believes there is an "inevitability" about the coalition effort.
As if to emphasize that point, he has made public his intention to launch a major offensive in Helmand Province soon.
"We're not interested in how many Taliban we kill. We'd much rather have them see the inevitability that things are changing and just accept that," McChrystal said. "And we think we can give them that opportunity. And that's why. It is a little unconventional to do it this way but I think it gives everybody a chance to think through what they're going to do before suddenly, in the dark of night, they're hit with an offensive," said the general.
He called 2010 an "exceptionally significant" year for Afghanistan, and said he needs more trainers and mentors for the country's growing security forces. But he did not endorse a comment made earlier by the U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, who called 2010 "the year of maximum effort," and indicated the need for coalition troops in Afghanistan should decline starting next year if the allies make an all-out effort this year. Ambassador Daalder spoke as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was preparing to meet with his NATO counterparts here to discuss just that.