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“You’re going to have to convince people, not kill them.”

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new commander in Afghanistan, is a widely acclaimed veteran of the Special Operations community. In Iraq he led the Joint Special Operations Command, which was in charge of hunting down high-value targets. He is generally acknowledged to be a brilliant, driven officer. The only doubt about his appointment has been: Will he be overly focused on taking down terrorist kingpins in Afghanistan? That strategy has never produced success in a counterinsurgency, which requires using plain old conventional troops to produce a sense of security among the populace. In this Wall Street Journal interview, he lays those doubts to rest. The key quotes:

After watching the U.S. try and fail for years to put down insurgencies in both countries, Gen. McChrystal said he believes that to win in Afghanistan, “You’re going to have to convince people, not kill them.”

“Since 9/11, I have watched as America tried to first put out this fire with a hammer, and it doesn’t work,” he said last week at his home at Fort McNair in Washington. “Decapitation strategies don’t work”….

“I know that I want it to be an effective traditional or classic counterinsurgency campaign by getting people down in among the population.”

That’s a pretty stunning — and encouraging — statement coming from the former JSOC commander whose job was to pursue a “decapitation strategy” in Iraq by killing Abu Musab al Zarqawi, capturing Saddam Hussein, and other high-profile coups. But it’s a testament to McChrystal’s depth of strategic vision that he realizes something more is called for to win the war in Afghanistan. Whether he will be able to successfully carry out this strategy is another question; but at least he’s on the right track.


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