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January 9th, 2013
10:47 PM ET

McChrystal: Afghans want strategic partners

Retired General Stanley McChrystal says military style firearms shouldn’t be in civilian hands. He talked with Anderson Cooper about gun control here at home and as the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, he had some thoughts on the potential pullout of all U.S. troops by 2014.

Read the rush transcript of the interview:

You made headlines just recently talking about gun control. What is your view when you see these military-style weapons in the hands of civilians?

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL (RET.), FORMER U.S. COMMANDER IN AFGHANISTAN: I spent a lifetime, a career carrying a weapon, an M16 first and then an M4 carbine later.

And they fire a .556 round at about 3,000 feet per second and when it hits human flesh, it's devastating. It's designed to be that way. That's what I want soldiers to carry. But I don't want those weapons around our schools, I don't want them on our streets. I think that if we can't - it's not a complete fix to just address assault weapons, but I think if we don't get very serious now when we seeing children being buried, then I can't think of a time when we should.

COOPER: You don't buy the argument that the only good answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun?

MCCHRYSTAL: I don't. And I think it's a time we have a serious discussion and not an either/or discussion. It is not a question of no guns at all in America or all guns.

COOPER: Nobody's talking about taking away all guns.

MCCHRYSTAL: That's right. Exactly.

I think it has to be reasonable and I think assault weapons are things that I'm not comfortable having in places around my family.

COOPER: Let's talk about Afghanistan.

The idea that was kind of floated earlier this week, the idea there would be no U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014. It came out of the White House. It is also being considered anywhere from 6,000 to 15,000.

Can you foresee from a military standpoint, not from a political standpoint, but from a military standpoint, where there would be no U.S. troops after 2014?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think I certainly wouldn't try to second-guess what commanders on the ground are analyzing right now, but I would say that first when I arrived in 2002 in Afghanistan, pretty early after the fall of the Taliban, the country was devastated physically and traumatized psychologically.

It was literally a basket case. Didn't know which way was up. Normal was everything before 1978. That was 23 years at the time. Now it's 34. People couldn't remember normal. They have made a loving progress. There are girls in school. There's been progress and greater security in places like Helmand. It's imperfect, but there's progress.

Now they're scared. They're scared of 2014 because there's a lot to lose now. They had this chaotic 34 years and I think the Afghan people don't want to lose it. Instead of just troop numbers, I really think what the Afghan people want from America and the West is a strategic partnership, that is not numbers of people, but it's a relationship that gives them the confidence that we are enough of a partner that if they need our help, not thousands of troops, maybe not even billions of dollars.

COOPER: But some sort of presence.

MCCHRYSTAL: Some sort of presence and some relationship.

COOPER: But how do you have that relationship when you have Afghan soldiers, when you have Afghan police killing NATO forces and killing U.S. personnel?

There's a huge amount of mistrust, probably more distrust than there's ever been.

MCCHRYSTAL: There is an awful lot of distrust, and we have to work through that.

COOPER: Because our whole program is based on the idea of building up Afghan security forces. And yet now we stop going on patrols with these guys. MCCHRYSTAL: For a period they did but in reality, again, if you use the anecdote to prove the whole, sometimes it's not true. I think the wider story is more complex. You have been there. You know there's an awful lot of good and there's an awful lot that's disappointing.

But I think we have to look at it holistically. It's so complex, to take one narrow part I think would be incorrect.

COOPER: Your strategy was counterinsurgency strategy and it was protect the population, build up confidence in local governments, in the central government as well, extend the power of the central government out to localities where it hadn't been traditionally and go after the Taliban, defeat the Taliban, not just degrade them, defeat them.

That's not the strategy anymore. The whole counterinsurgency strategy seems to have basically gone by the wayside. It's now just defeat al Qaeda or limit al Qaeda and build up security forces. Is that - I don't hear people talking about winning these days.

MCCHRYSTAL: When I was in Iraq particularly with special operations, I was in charge of a very kinetic part of the operation against al Qaeda in Iraq.

COOPER: Right. And a lot of your book focuses on the battle in there and it's actually fascinating.

MCCHRYSTAL: Exactly. I take people through details of going after Abu Musab al Zarqawi and other stories.

But when I got to Afghanistan, I realized that the Taliban is not this national liberation front, it's not something there are people waiting to have the Taliban come rescue them. They're extraordinarily unpopular, they're extraordinarily mistrusted because of how poorly they governed before and how extreme they are.

What they want is they want a reasonable legitimate government, and of course, they're struggling to have that. But in my view, the right approach was to protect the Afghan people and give them a reason to believe.

COOPER: But you go out on patrol with these guys. I was out last time I was out with the Marines in Helmand Province before the battle of Marjah.

You would spend all day going out to some isolated village, at great risk to the Marines on the ground, have a meeting with local elders, and they hadn't seen the national government in that town in a long time and then you go to Kabul and there are all these Afghan generals and politicians building McMansions in Kabul and you wonder where is the money going?

MCCHRYSTAL: Yes. It's hard.

And there have been a lot of mistakes made. I think when the United States entered we didn't understand the country or the problem well enough. But if you went to Marjah today, as you know, it much more secure. It's not perfect, but progress gets made slowly in any society.

I think just because it's hard and takes a long time doesn't mean it's not important for America's strategic interests in the region, which is stability.

COOPER: But you can't do that - that whole idea of building up the national government and confidence in the government, you can't do that without troops on the ground. Where does - if we're pulling out, whether it's we leave no troops or 6,000 troops or 15,000 troops, what is the mission?

MCCHRYSTAL: As I outlined in the book, in the fall of 2009 when I asked President Obama to approve 40,000 more forces, they were really to be a bridge force to give us a enough time to stop Taliban momentum, to create some secure areas, but also to grow Afghan security forces.

They have had a fair amount of time to grow the army and police. There has been progress. They got a long way to go, but there's been a lot of progress and I think it's time the Afghan forces and the Afghan government stand on its own as much as possible. They may need some help, but I think they can do an awful lot of it themselves now.

COOPER: In the book you write about the distrust between the military in the United States and the Obama White House and distrust based on - or that it really occurred early on based on kind of the politics of the operation.

I'm not - I don't want to misquote you. But you basically talked about - where are my notes - the distrust, the decision- making process on Afghanistan, that's what the distrust was based on, the decision-making process. What does - you don't go into too much detail on what that actually means. What does that mean?

MCCHRYSTAL: The term I used was lack of trust and a trust deficit. The reason I used those is because I consider that a little different from mistrust.

Whenever you have got a new organization, a new administration, any new administration, it's a team that has to come together, it's got to build links among itself, it's got to build trust over time. It comes in and it works with the Department of Defense and military and it takes time to build a team. It takes time build trust.

COOPER: But you can build trust pretty quickly if you feel the other person has your back and isn't double dealing or double talking or talking out of the side of their mouth or leaking stuff to reporters. Did you think the political apparatus understood what you wanted, understood the military?

MCCHRYSTAL: I'm not sure you can build trust as quickly as you say. I think you build trust when you speak the same language. If you think about it, civilians and military grow up in slightly different cultures and it takes a while to grow together. Look at President Abraham Lincoln at the beginning of the Civil War. It took him quite a while to grow comfortable as commander in chief, and it took the generals that he led quite a while for them to grow and mature into the kind of relationship - I would argue it was probably 1863 before those two elements became an effective team.

COOPER: Do you think the trust is now better than it was when you came in?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think it's undoubtedly grown. I think maturation of all the players. I think it's grown.

If I could do it over again, one of the things I would try to stress even more is building trust between civilian leadership and my command and other parts of the military.

COOPER: Was it a mistake to go for the counterinsurgency strategy? Because it did require a large number of troops. There were those who argued just focus on al Qaeda and focus on drone strikes. Do you have any doubts about it? Do you wish you had been able to continue that strategy?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, to answer the second part, yes, I do.

I have thought a lot about it. I am convinced that was absolutely the right strategy. It was the only strategy. We had to win the support of the Afghan population. They're not just the prize. They're the point of it all.

COOPER: But have we won the support at this point? Because, again, you go out to these meetings and these guys are on the fence. They say you guys are going to leave and the Taliban - you leave tonight, the Taliban comes back tomorrow.

MCCHRYSTAL: If I'm a 50-year-old Afghan living in Marjah and Americans come in and they say we want you to do this but the Taliban come at night, I don't have a choice.

I have to be scared. I have to hedge my bets and an awful lot of Afghans have been put in that position. Only when there's enough security that they can be protected and their government grows enough legitimacy that they can believe in it do they have a strong ability.

So it's very difficult to judge Afghan who act very rationally. We think, well, why won't they fall in completely with the government? They're in a position very hard to do that.

COOPER: It's a fascinating book. I really appreciate you coming on and talking about it. Thank you very much.

MCCHRYSTAL: Thanks, Anderson. I appreciate it.

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Filed under: 360 Webcast • Afghanistan • Guns
soundoff (One Response)
  1. Joe Right

    I noticed that the general was NOT asked what types of weapons he choose for his and his families protection. i am willing to bet there is a high capacity weapon around the house.

    January 9, 2013 at 11:19 pm |

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