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Nato's new approach in Afghanistan

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Gen McChrystal: "The Afghan people don't like the Taliban"

Ahead of presidential elections in Afghanistan, the American commander of the Nato-led international force there, Gen Stan McChrystal, described the military situation there as "serious".

He told BBC world affairs editor John Simpson that he was changing the whole approach to the conflict.

Gen McChrystal is the thinking man's soldier. He can see that things are not going Nato's way here in Afghanistan, and knows that there must be a new strategy.

As a top American special forces commander, he led the operation to capture Saddam Hussein in 2003 in Iraq. He has been in the job here in Afghanistan for just two months.

I flew with him by helicopter to the town of Sarobi, east of Kabul, which until recently was one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

It is held by the French Foreign Legion, and is considerably safer now - though there are dozens of insurgents operating in the mountains nearby.

Impressed

The senior French officers who met him and were briefed by him about his new approach to the conflict were enthusiastic about it.

French soldier serving in Afghanistan
Soldiers on patrol may have to forgo dark glasses and body armour

Afterwards, one told me he had been impressed by Gen McChrystal and felt he was very much on the right lines.

The general described his approach to me like this: "The situation is serious, and we need to turn the momentum of the enemy. We can do that.

"What what we need to do is to correct some of the ways we operated in the past. We need show the kind of resolve and the imagination in some cases to do this smarter and to do it right."

It is clear he wants the Nato troops in Afghanistan to move away from the idea that they are fighting an all-out war - the "body-count approach".

Instead, he wants them to help the Afghans get rid of the Taliban for themselves.

New commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan Gen Stanley McChrystal
We'll win when we connect with enough of the Afghan people, where they have finally said, 'Enough.'
Gen McChrystal

Gen McChrystal is a supporter of the way the British operated in Iraq. He is generous in his praise of the professionalism and courage of the British army.

When he spoke to the French officers he suggested that patrolling without body armour and dark glasses was one way of showing local people that Nato was on their side.

They responded enthusiastically, though one senior officer said that if he ordered his men to patrol without body armour and one of them was killed, he himself would lose his job.

Indiscriminate

Gen McChrystal knows that ordinary Afghans have many complaints about the way Nato troops operate.

They include the indiscriminate bombing which has killed large numbers of civilians, and the arrest of people who are left languishing in jail without trial.

In Sarobi the general visited the district governor, Qazi Sulaiman, who put these two complaints to him directly. The general gave him a clear assurance that such things would not continue.

It would not be an easy promise to keep, he said, but it was essential to do it.

Afterwards I asked him, if the situation was so serious, was he going to win?

"We are," he replied. When? There was a faint pause, then he said it was difficult to predict.

"We'll win it when we connect with enough of the Afghan people, where they have finally said, 'Enough.'"

Gen McChrystal is planning to apply a new broom to the complicated mess he has inherited in Afghanistan. He has said publicly that he is giving himself from 18 months to two years to see if this new approach works.



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