Conflict & Justice

Reactions in Afghanistan

The top US military commander in Afghanistan spoke to his officers in Kandahar today. General Stanley McChrystal said the new plan is not “the beginning of the end” but rather “the end of the beginning.” Anchor Marco Werman speaks with reporter Ben Gilbert who was in Kandahar today for the general’s speech.

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MARCO WERMAN: I’m Marco Werman. This is The World.  The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan spoke to his officers in Kandahar today. General Stanley McChrystal told the officers that quote “Everything changes right now.”   McChrystal was referring to President Obama newly-unveiled war plan for Afghanistan.  It calls for 30,000 more U.S. troops and a draw-down to start about 18 months from now.  Today, McChrystal said the new plan is not “the beginning of the end” but rather “the end of the beginning.”  Reporter Ben Gilbert is in Kandahar at the air base.  And tell us first of all, Ben, what did General McChrystal mean by that quote?

BEN GILBERT: Well, he had said that basically beginning today with Obama’s speech and the increasing troops that the last eight years can basically be put behind us and that today a new strategy that actually he’s been working on with his commanders on the ground around Afghanistan in preparing for and preparing to implement has now officially been instituted.  It very much echoed what President Obama said, but added a lot more details obviously for his commanders on the ground and the civilian staff that are also here in Afghanistan.

WERMAN: General McChrystal also today worked on kind of honing the central message of this surge to the troops who are already there.  Do you have any sense of what that message is so far aside from 30,000 new troops that are soon to be joining you?

GILBERT: Well, I think he made a point today that in the next year and a half Afghanistan will see a difference. I mean, to listen to him speak, you believed that this is going to happen and that there’s no doubt about it, and that you forget the fact that 80,000 troops might have been nice as well. And he wasn’t sure of this either. I mean, he was ecstatic about these 30,000 troops coming and this new beginning. But he echoed President Obama’s message today.  We are here to secure Afghanistan.  Our brothers, he called them, the Afghan people and to secure the country and to help build a stable government and security forces here.

WERMAN: Ben, how soon can implementation of the new plan go into effect, and now soon could it make a difference?  Did McChrystal talk about that at all?

GILBERT: Well, actually, he didn’t even have to talk about it.  I mean, everybody who’s here knows that there have been plans in the works for weeks, if not months.  Today, I was briefed by a General, Acadian General with Taskforce Kandahar.  He’s a Canadian and he joined U.S. units here based, but it has control of Kandahar sitting about 85% of the population in Kandahar Province, and this is one of the most violent provinces to position troops in Afghanistan. So the units here had essentially been beefed up their surrounding Kandahar city and the strategy here is pretty much try to keep the Taliban out of the city. And these plans have been in the works for the last couple months, and so already they’re moving around brigades. They’re moving around units to try to implement this new strategy, literally today as these plans were announced that it had been in the works.

WERMAN: And how will the new U.S. plan with all these soldiers actually affect the command of this Canadian General you spoke with?

GILBERT: Well, he’s actually doing it because he’s going to have a lot more troops in a smaller area which their operations officer of this unit just was saying that it’s a smaller area, but actually there are more troops. So in terms of counterinsurgency doctrine he said this is a very good thing because this gives you a higher troop ratio to population ratio, which is the key to getting security in a counterinsurgency strategy.

WERMAN: Now, Ben, last night when President Obama made his speech you were with soldiers at Kandahar Air Base. What kind of impressions did Mr. Obama make on them?

GILBERT: Well, I think a lot of them heard perhaps what they needed to hear because my impression here of moral has been that it doesn’t surprise me how negative many soldiers have been about this campaign in Afghanistan, about being in Afghanistan, about fighting in Afghanistan.  So I think in a lot of ways President Obama’s speech is coming at the right time. So President Obama seemed to address them with an urgency that I heard a number of troops today say to me, “Well, that makes me think about it again.”

WERMAN: Reporter Ben Gilbert in Kandahar.  I appreciate your time.  Thank you.

GILBERT: Thanks, Marco.

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