Gen McChrystal, a four-star general, took charge of US and Nato troops in Afghanistan today,
McChrystal takes charge in Afghanistan
KABUL // Gen Stanley McChrystal, a four-star American general with a long history in special operations, took charge of US and Nato troops in Afghanistan today, a change of command the Pentagon hopes will turn the tide in an increasingly violent eight-year war. Gen McChrystal took command from Gen David McKiernan during a low-key ceremony at the heavily fortified headquarters of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force in central Kabul. Gen McKiernan was fired last month by the defence secretary Robert Gates one year into a two-year assignment. Gen McChrystal, a former commanding general of the Joint Special Operations Command, is expected to bring a more unconventional approach to a war that has turned increasingly violent the last three years. "The Afghan people are at the center of our mission. In reality, they are the mission. We must protect them from violence, whatever its nature. We must respect their religion and traditions," Gen McChrystal said. "But while operating with care, we will not be timid." Gen McChrystal will command the largest international force ever in Afghanistan. A record 56,000 US troops are in the country, alongside 32,000 forces from 41 other countries. American troops have poured into Helmand province the last several weeks in an effort to stamp out an insurgency that has a strong hold in the world's largest opium-poppy growing region. Gen McChrystal met with the president Hamid Karzai yesterday, who warned the American general that the "most important element of the mission" is to protect Afghan civilians. Civilian casualties during military operations have long been a point of friction between Mr Karzai and the US. The most contentious examples of civilian deaths in US military operations in recent years have involved US Special Operations Forces, which Gen McChrystal used to command. The four-star general has already pledged to reduce the number of Afghan villagers killed in fighting, saying he intends to review US and allied operating procedures with an eye to minimizing civilian deaths. "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 during testimony before Congress this month. He also said that if he could obtain more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, it would sharpen the precision of allied attacks, thereby avoiding unwanted casualties. Militant attacks have risen steadily in the last three years and have reached a new high. The US Gen David Petraeus said Afghanistan saw 400 insurgent attacks during the first week of June. In comparison, there were less than 50 attacks a week in January 2004.