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US general says war in Afghanistan difficult, but 'winnable'

Tells Congress key is limiting civilian deaths

By Robert Burns
Associated Press / June 3, 2009
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WASHINGTON - The general whom President Obama picked to turn around the worsening war in Afghanistan told Congress yesterday that winning will require spending more US resources and killing fewer Afghan civilians.

Army Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal warned that failure would probably mean all-out civil war and a firmer foothold for Al Qaeda terrorists.

McChrystal said that with a proper counterinsurgency campaign, including a more prominent role for civilian specialists, Afghanistan can be stabilized and its Taliban opposition marginalized. Progress must be shown within 18 to 24 months to sustain public support for the war, the general said.

"I believe it is winnable, but I don't think it will be easily winnable," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a hearing that suggested he is likely to win confirmation by the full Senate amid lingering questions about his role in the handling of the 2004 accidental shooting death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.

If confirmed he also would receive a fourth star, capping a rapid rise through the officer ranks.

McChrystal would replace General David McKiernan, who was fired May 11 in an unusual wartime shake-up. McKiernan has said that the conflict is "stalemated, at best" in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban is strongest and where thousands of additional American troops are headed this summer.

The three-hour hearing highlighted the severity and diversity of problems facing Afghanistan: a resilient insurgency, a lack of effective Afghan governance, official corruption, rampant illicit drug trade, unwillingness by some NATO allies to do more fighting, and a spreading Taliban insurgency inside Pakistan.

"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," he said. The most important way to accomplish that, he said, is to further develop the Afghan national army and police, which he said probably will have to grow in numbers beyond current projections.