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Gen. McChrystal and the Mission in Afghanistan

Aired December 13, 2009 - 00:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: This week, the war in Afghanistan and the general who's got to win it. I sat down for a rare interview with General Stanley McChrystal.

Hello, everybody. Welcome to our program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

U.S. General Stanley McChrystal is about to return to Afghanistan with a new strategy, more troops and orders to turn the tide against the Taliban. General McChrystal has long trained his sights on high-profile targets. He led the forces that finally captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq and those who killed Abu Musab Zarqawi, head of al Qaeda in Iraq. Iraq, of course, is not Afghanistan, but will the surge still work?

Today General McChrystal spells out the steps for success, the consequences of failure -- and what's on a four-star playlist.


What do you listen to on your iPod? I ask you this because there have been pictures of you running with those -- the iPod ear things hanging down, and everybody wants to know what you're listening to.


I sat down with him in Washington just after he testified before Congress. He explains what success will look like and defeating the enemy really means, and he has some surprising comments about the current state of the Taliban.


General McChrystal, thank you for joining us.


AMANPOUR: I've heard people say that the U.S., the international effort in Afghanistan has been eight one-year wars. What is wrong with the way you've been fighting this war over the last eight years?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think as we go forward, what we really need to do is get consistency and constant focus. I think that what we have to do is focus on the strategic partnership with Afghanistan for the long term -- don't think in terms of six months, eighteen months or a year, but the fact that the president and the other leadership has guaranteed Afghanistan that we are there with them as partners. And it's consistency that's key.

AMANPOUR: The strategy that you were given in March, was it over- ambitious, or did you overly ambitiously interpret it? Because the new strategy is considerably different.

MCCHRYSTAL: I think the strategy that the president laid out to begin to reverse the Taliban momentum and begin to provide additional support for Afghan national security forces is pretty consistent. I think the process that we went through over the last months has been very valuable because it educated everyone to a greater degree and helped us refine our focuses a bit. But I think we are still about helping the Afghans secure themselves, and over time, build their own nation.

AMANPOUR: You said in the summertime that you needed at least 12 months to get this done, otherwise the mission is going to fail. Do you think now that you can achieve this mission?


AMANPOUR: You have all the resources you need?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, we have all the resources programmed. They will begin to flow in. But I absolutely do. I'm confident we can.

AMANPOUR: What is the mission? Is it to defeat the Taliban? Is it to degrade them? What actually is the mission?

MCCHRYSTAL: There are really two parts of it. If we think in terms of al Qaeda, it is to prevent the ability of al Qaeda or other international terrorists from coming into Afghanistan and using it for safe havens, because as most people know, many of the 9/11 hijackers, in fact, were trained in camps inside Afghanistan.

The other part of the mission is in support of Afghanistan itself. It is to provide time and space for the government of Afghanistan to develop security capability, governance capability, begin development that allows them to protect their own sovereignty.

AMANPOUR: Right, but in terms of the war fighting, because you've got now 30,000 new troops coming in, there were 21,000 already deployed under President Obama -- you've also said that the south is going to be your initial focus, the heartland of the Taliban. You're going to be in amongst the population. What does that mean in terms of fighting? Are you going to be fighting to get in there, fighting to keep the Taliban out, killing Taliban?

MCCHRYSTAL: At the end of the day, the insurgency needs access to the population to be effective. They need to be able to coerce the population, to tax the population, to recruit from the population, and to prevent the government from extending its governance into those areas. So what we are going to do and what we have already started doing -- and you see in a number of areas, Garmsir, Nawa, and other areas -- where we provide security, we deny the insurgents the ability to operate and threaten the population. That lets them move on with their lives.

AMANPOUR: But how? I mean, are you going to draw in the Taliban? What are we going to see on the ground?

MCCHRYSTAL: What you'll see is areas that become increasingly secure. We will work with Afghan partners to establish security zones, and gradually, those security zones will grow in size. And then as they connect each other, they provide the ability for an Afghan farmer, for example, to raise crops in the central Helmand River valley and then to move with full security up to the markets of his choice -- might be Lashkar Gah, might be Kandahar.

When you push the insurgents out, you deny them their ability. I am much less worried about killing insurgents, Taliban, than I am about securing the people.

AMANPOUR: But are you concerned about defeating the insurgency?

MCCHRYSTAL: That's how you defeat the insurgency. If you take away from them the opportunity to accomplish their mission, which is to get at the population, they are prevented from being successful. Over time, they become irrelevant, and they, in fact, are defeated.

AMANPOUR: What do you -- you spend a lot of time thinking about the inside of the head of the enemy -- the terrorists, the insurgents, however you call them. What do you assess their position right now? Are they getting tired? Is the momentum -- can you change it in a reasonable time? What do you assess their status to be?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think it's an interesting question because I think it is two different schizophrenic ideas. On the one hand, they've been able to rise violence in the last few years. It's steadily gone up, and there's been a crisis in the people of confidence of the government's ability to secure them. So I think that at the senior leadership of the insurgency, there's a tremendous amount of optimism and confidence. And we see that in some of their comments.

On the other hand, we see also a tremendous amount of angst because at the lower levels, they have been forced out of a number of areas. The increasing security that we create shows the Afghan people a better way and that the Taliban can be pushed out. Their fighters are tired. We see a number that have already made extensive overtures to reintegrate back into the government.

So I think we've got an insurgency that is sitting safely in what they consider are safe havens. They are trying to exhort their forces, who are closer to the fight, but the forces are having a tremendous problem right now and tremendous weakening. And so I think that they're finding that a problem.

AMANPOUR: At what point -- because you've said that they have the momentum, Admiral Mullen has said that they have the momentum. At what point do you need to break that momentum to be able to ensure success? Is it three months? Is it four, five, six?

MCCHRYSTAL: I don't think there's a date on the calendar, but I think we're already turning that momentum. I think -- the momentum is in the minds of people. The output -- or the effect of our counterinsurgency campaign must be to change the perceptions of the people, to increase their confidence in the future. When we change the momentum, when the people perceive that things are getting better, that security is increasing, then the insurgency is put in a very difficult position because they are losing that sense of momentum.

AMANPOUR: You've talked about the people. You said it will be the Afghan people who decide who wins and who loses. We'll discuss that right after a break. We'll be back with General McChrystal.




BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort, one that would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost and what we need to achieve to secure our interests.

AMANPOUR: That was President Obama during his speech announcing the new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan. And we're joined again by General Stanley McChrystal, who has to implement that strategy.

General, we've been talking about it's the people who are going to decide, it's them who are going to say who wins and who loses. And you have said that the greatest risk is to lose the support of the people, that the people -- if they're against us, we cannot win. We have to have their support.

Can you have their support without giving them the basics of a decent life, of a dignified life, development?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think we can have their support. I think the most important thing that they desire now is security, and then some basic governance that allows them to shape their future. I don't think they want us to build their nation. I think they want us to give them the opportunity to grow their own security capacity and their own governance capacity so they can do it.

AMANPOUR: Why do you think Americans are so queasy about the term "nation building"? Because, frankly, the March speech that President Obama laid out was about nation building. Your report was about how one needed to have nation building. Now, you can call it anything -- state, nation building, security building, stability building -- but isn't that vital to success?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think it is, but I also think it's ultimately an Afghan responsibility. They are going to need a lot of assistance and partnership from the international community, and I think we need to offer that to them. But we also need to remember that the responsibility ultimately lies with Afghans, and we must enable them but not do it for them.

AMANPOUR: You know, a lot of cynics have said the 82nd Airborne does not escort children to kindergarten. And one of the colonels on the ground who's since rotated out told me that, Look, the only way you break the cycle of revenge in the future, and fighting, is not necessarily through hearts and minds, but by delivering hope and faith, that we if we build them a school, they have the evidence right there that their life is going to be OK. Would you agree that your soldiers feel proud and actually like doing that job?

MCCHRYSTAL: Absolutely. I watch agricultural development teams that are out helping Afghan farmers do things better. I watch us help build roads. I watch all of these things, and I think our force is now extraordinarily mature in understanding the real way to success here is through the Afghan people.

AMANPOUR: And let's say we just take the hard reality of security for the United States and the region. Nobody wants to nation build, maybe, but they say we want our security to defeat al Qaeda and to defeat the Taliban. Well, many American generals and soldiers, many Afghan officials, have told me that, in fact, stability and security comes with stability and development for the Afghan people. So what is the risk of you continuing to fight and not doing nation building, let's say?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think that, as we provide security, there must be nation building that occurs, but it occurs under Afghan lead with international assistance. It cannot be a product delivered, it must be a process enabled for the Afghans.

AMANPOUR: Does it concern you that so many of these civilians are trying to come up, but many of them are holed up in Kabul, can't really go out of their compounds? How long is it going to take to secure the environment enough to allow the so-called civilian surge to operate?

MCCHRYSTAL: It varies location to location. In the case of many of our civilians, they're out immediately with the soldiers, in harm's way, conducting the kind of things that would make everybody proud. We've still got to continue to be able to enable non-governmental organizations even to a greater degree, and other organizations, as well.

AMANPOUR: General McChrystal, we have to go to another break. When we come back, we're going to talk about the Karzai government, an indispensable partner, and also reconciliation with the Taliban.



HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN PRESIDENT: Afghanistan is a sovereign country. It has a sovereign government. It's not an occupied country. And no foreign power can go beyond the legitimate presence in Afghanistan to undermine the Afghan government and to work directly with those that they wish to work. This has to be forgotten, and this has to be taken very seriously.

AMANPOUR: That was President Karzai telling me that the U.S. plan to go around him, do an end run around him if he cannot or will not seek good governance and crack down on corruption, that they should rethink that strategy.

Joining me again is General Stanley McChrystal. You have said that as much of a threat in Afghanistan as the insurgency is bad governance and corruption. You heard what President Karzai said. Will you still try to go around him, go to the provincial district level if things just don't work at the central government level?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think we're all working for the same objective. President Karzai and the government in Kabul and then at the provincial and district level, and even the most local levels, are trying to provide the Afghan people with an opportunity. So I think we're really talking about partnership, but we're talking about shared responsibility. So when we see things aren't working, I think candor and looking for solutions is really the way through this.

AMANPOUR: And how do you envision it now? There's sort of, like, a start over moment right now. How do you envision working with the Karzai government and whether it will fulfill its obligations?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think it's on every level. I enjoy -- in my particular job, I enjoy very close relationships with a number of the ministers that are in the security around (ph) -- Ministers Wardak, Minister Atmar, Director Saleh and other individuals. So what we do is on a daily basis, we come up with combined objectives. Together, we establish plans on the way forward, strategies, how forces will be employed, how other activities will occur. And I think that's key because it gets back to what I talked about, shared responsibility.

AMANPOUR: One of things you've talked about is building relationships even with the Taliban who want to come in from the cold. But I've been told there is no mechanism to allow them to come in. There's no amnesty infrastructure. Some are killed, even if they come in. Some of them are arrested or put on lists of blocked personalities. What are you going to do to make it easier for these people to come in? And do you think they will?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think they will, Christiane. I've talked with President Karzai on a number of occasions on this, and I think he is absolutely in the same mindset that I am on it. We need to offer an opportunity for fighters and lower-level commanders in the Taliban to make the decision to come back into Afghan society, under the government of Afghanistan's constitutional control. But they need to be able to come back with respect. They need to be able to come back with an opportunity for a reasonable life, protected from their former comrades.

AMANPOUR: What happens if Osama bin Laden is not captured or killed? What happens? What is the effect on this insurgency and on extremism worldwide?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think that al Qaeda will continue to be made less and less relevant around the world. Their ideology is bankrupt. It takes a while for that to be proven, but I think it is being proven. Their organization is being weakened. I do think it's important that Osama bin Laden be brought to justice in some way not as complete closure, but as a step towards closure.

AMANPOUR: You know, there are many prominent voices here in the United States who say, Forget about Afghanistan. It's Pakistan that's the main country in our national interest, many who question whether Afghanistan still has a central role fighting back terror and extremism. What do you say? Can Pakistan be safe, for instance, if Afghanistan falls to the Taliban?

MCCHRYSTAL: I don't believe it can. I think Afghanistan is critical to stability and the future security of Pakistan. I think the government of Pakistan understands that, as well.

AMANPOUR: And do you think that if you don't get -- I don't want to say your act together, but get this fight done, the Taliban could take over Afghanistan again?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think it's very important that we get this -- this effort right and we defeat the Taliban and that...

AMANPOUR: Is there a risk that the Taliban could again be in control of Afghanistan?

MCCHRYSTAL: I believe that there is a risk that the insurgency could cause Afghanistan to be unstable to the point that it would be a real risk to the region.

AMANPOUR: And if they did, would al Qaeda come back?

MCCHRYSTAL: Absolutely. I believe that they would.

AMANPOUR: Why is there so queasy an attitude to the word "defeat"? I mean, isn't a military meant to defeat its enemy?

MCCHRYSTAL: It is interesting because in military definition, "defeat" does not mean eradicate or wipe out an enemy. It means to prevent them from being able to accomplish their mission. That, in fact, is what we are trying to do with the Taliban. To the degree to which we can degrade their capability, prevent them from access to the population and increase Afghanistan's ability to protect its own sovereignty, we have defeated the Taliban from being an existential threat to Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: And on that note, part of your strategy, I mean, the key pillar, is getting up Afghanistan's forces, military and police. Are you really going to do it in the time that you've been given to do it? You say you want 400,000 army and police. Is that possible with an 18-month transition deadline? I mean, already -- you've said already that it'll take four years. The British are saying it'll take four years. In fact, Bob Ainsworth, the British defense secretary, said he cannot support the Obama timeline. Can you do it?

MCCHRYSTAL: In terms of creating a more capable NSF, we'll work as hard as we can to grow it as fast as we can, both in size and in developing it. Whether it makes it in four years or slightly more than four years is less important than the fact it keeps getting stronger as we go and keeps taking capacity away from the Taliban.

AMANPOUR: How can you do it, given all the problems that you've already talked about on Congress -- and many other people have -- the illiteracy factor, the fact that there have been many desertions, the fact that we hear now from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that the Taliban are paying their militia more than the Afghan government is paying its army?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sure. The government of Afghanistan just increased the pay of Afghan national army and Afghan national police significantly. They still are a little less than we think are paid to many of the Taliban fighters. But I think that they don't all fight for money. I think the real key is that we can grow the capacity because Afghans want to defend Afghanistan. The army is a particularly well-respected entity, and they provide a sense of national identity that's key. So I think it won't be easy, but building any institution like this is a challenge.

AMANPOUR: To those people here and around the world who say that this is not worth it anymore, what do you say?

MCCHRYSTAL: I believe that it is. I believe that as I go around and I see in the face of Afghans what they want for the future, I believe it's worth it.

AMANPOUR: And in America's security interest?

MCCHRYSTAL: Absolutely.


AMANPOUR: When we return, we talk about the need and the risks of fighting from the sky.


What about air power? You have said that air power could sow the seeds of our destruction. What do you mean?

MCCHRYSTAL: Afghans, like any people, are very sensitive to civilian casualties. And I believe that if we either are or appear to the Afghan people to be cavalier about their welfare, I think that they will be very less likely to support us.



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. Take a look at the top stories right now. Italy's prime minister has been attacked at a rally in Milan. A spokesman tells CNN that Silvio Berlusconi, as you see right here, was shaking hands with supporters when a man in that crowd punched him in the face. An Italian official tells a local newspaper the attacker had some kind of metallic object in his hand. These images just now coming in. Berlusconi's face was cut, bleeding. He was rushed to the hospital after being put in a vehicle there. And his spokesman says the suspect is in custody.

Iran is reportedly ready to strike a deal on its nuclear program. Iranian media quotes the country's foreign minister as saying Teheran is prepared to swap enriched uranium for fuel. The report says the fuel would be used to power reactor use in cancer research. The U.N. has been urging Iran to make a swap. But a U.S. State Department official tells CNN it appears Iran's offer falls short of what the U.N. is actually seeking.

And authorities in Thailand say that they have seized a cargo plane loaded with weapons from North Korea in Bangkok. At least five people were arrested. Thirty-five tons of explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and parts to make surface-to-air missiles were found inside that cargo plane.

And those are the headlines. More AMANPOUR in one minute.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back. During my interview with General McChrystal, we also talked about the impact on the battlefield of a publicly stated exit date, and what are the right lessons to draw from history.


AMANPOUR: There's been a lot of controversy about this exit date. Now, I know there's been a lot of refining of that term. People are talking about conditions-based, talking about a transition.

But what signal -- you know the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. What signal has it sent to the people, whether the ordinary people or the Taliban themselves?

MCCHRYSTAL: I believe it sent a signal that is very important, but you need to look in context. First, the president and the secretary of defense have promised a long-term strategic partnership. That helps guarantee the future of Afghanistan. That's an important signal.

I think, on the other end in the very near term, the president and our coalition partners have sent an even more powerful signal that we are sending an enormous number of forces to help provide them time and space.

So to me, what we've done is we said, in the near term, we're going to reverse the momentum of this insurgency, we're going to provide you with an extraordinary amount of assistance to grow your Afghan national security force capability, and then, over the long term, we're going to be in a partnership with you that guarantees your effectiveness over time.

But it -- but it's also a forcing function. It tells people that we cannot have an endless surge of a significant number of combat forces. And so it's a forcing function to make people step up.

AMANPOUR: On the other hand, isn't it standard counterinsurgency doctrine that these things take longer than 18 months, 2 years, 3 years, that it's at least maybe even a decade, at best?

MCCHRYSTAL: It will take longer, but it won't take longer to turn the momentum. It won't take longer to get this moving in the direction where Afghans have confidence.

AMANPOUR: Tell me when you need to see progress to let you know that the momentum has turned and the back has been broken.

MCCHRYSTAL: I believe we have already proven in the last few months the effectiveness of counterinsurgency where we've applied it effectively, Central Helmand River Valley, parts of Kunar, parts of, as you know, the Khost bowl area, and a number of other areas. So we -- we show that it works, and we show, most importantly, the Afghan people that it works.

AMANPOUR: What is your plan now? I mean, with these new troops, what's the idea, to sort of give the insurgents a body blow and hope that something will fill the space? What is the plan?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, it's -- it's not to give the insurgents a body blow directly. It's to take away from them that which they need, access to the population. So it's to go to key areas, expand security in those areas, and prevent the insurgents from having access.

One thing I do want people to understand, though, part of counterinsurgency is not all securing the population. There's an effort to disrupt insurgents where they might be trying to -- to gather in more remote parts of the country. And we have special operating forces and others that are doing what you would call constant body blows, really, against leadership.

And they are Afghan, coalition together, very precise efforts, and they've been very effective.

AMANPOUR: Again, to go back to this notion of an exit date, even Americans polled -- they might want the troops back, but they didn't think it was very clever to broadcast an -- an exit, transition, whatever word you want to use, date. And a lot of the Afghan people have said, look, you know, we could cooperate with you, but if we know that you're going to be leaving, then the Taliban is going to come and cut our heads off or something for cooperating with you. How can you reassure them that they need to cooperate with you and it won't be at the lost of their lives?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think that's a very important point. We first stressed the strategic partnership aspect. The second is, we continue to grow Afghan capability, and we partner with them.

We must counter any insurgent propaganda that talks about a date certain, because, in fact, what we have promised the people of Afghanistan is a long-term strategic partnership, and that's the key thing that the Afghans must understand...


AMANPOUR: Are they understanding? Are you busy telling people that? Are they getting the message?

MCCHRYSTAL: I believe we are, but I think it's something we need to stay at, and we need to prove it with our actions, not with our words.

AMANPOUR: Would you agree that a civilian effort needs to be as coherent and as strong as a military effort?

MCCHRYSTAL: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: Because as yet, after eight years, it still looks incoherent, ad hoc, a lot of good intentions and a lot of good little projects, but it just doesn't seem to make up a whole. How is that -- how is -- how is that mind going to be focused, to actually get the civilian development done?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think it's very important across our effort we understand that good intentions and good works, if they're not coordinated together, don't equal a good outcome. We've made some great strides forward with our provincial reconstruction teams and also with some things that have brought additional -- particularly U.S. civilian capacity in, partnered with the military, not under military control, but partnered with us, so that as we go into counterinsurgency shape, clear, hold and build, civilians and military are -- are in alignment providing their respective strengths.

AMANPOUR: And what about air power? You have said that air power could sow the seeds of our destruction. What do you mean?

MCCHRYSTAL: Afghans, like any people, are very sensitive to civilian casualties, and I believe that if we either are or appear to the Afghan people to be cavalier about their welfare, to be using lethal fires, not just air, but any of our -- our elements of power in a way that harms them or their property, I think that they will be very less likely to support us.

AMANPOUR: And how are you going to make sure that you don't do that? Because even just the last couple of days, there's been yet another incident of air power. People were protesting, in fact, in the village where it happened. I mean, what's it going to take not to do that?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, it takes a tremendous effort on our part. First, there will always be allegations, many of which are false, but we need to act as though there's the risk of -- in everything we do, of that eventuality. So what we do is we try to educate our force constantly that they can always use whatever force is necessary to protect themselves. They have that right, and they have that responsibility. But at the same time, they have a responsibility to protect the Afghan people. That's why we're there.

AMANPOUR: And yet there's a dilemma, isn't there, because often air power is the only way, the Predators, the drones, to kill the leaders, to kill a Taliban who you've identified in the middle of a -- a village or something. Look what this man, Jonathan Vaccaro, has said in the "New York Times." He's an Army guy.

He said it took hours on the phone trying to persuade 11 separate Afghan, American and international authorities who needed to sign off on any action. The Taliban by that time had moved on.

The villagers are incredulous. They don't know what's going on. And he said in all it takes about 96 hours to get authority to blast a Taliban commander in a certain village. There's a dilemma. On the one hand, you don't want to kill civilians; on the other hand, you risk letting these Taliban fighters go. Which way do you fall?

MCCHRYSTAL: This is always incredibly difficult. I always believe that we must be incredibly precise. It is better to miss a target than to cause civilian casualties. We can always target enemy leaders later. We can't make up for the fact that we killed civilians.

On the other hand, although I don't know specifics of that, I've seen times when, in minutes, we effectively identify and target. So I think we're -- we're actually very good at balancing this.

AMANPOUR: General Petraeus said, in an interview right after President Obama's latest strategy speech, that there is an inherent tension between domestic political concerns and military realities on the ground. How are you navigating that tension? And can you succeed navigating that tension?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think, if you're talking about Western domestic...

AMANPOUR: U.S. sentiment and NATO partners (ph).

MCCHRYSTAL: Absolutely. I think what we need to do is we need to be able to show clear objectives and clear progress toward those objectives. I think what is most concerning to people is the feeling that we are either with an ill-defined end or we are not moving toward our clear objectives. So it's explaining to the American people, it explains to the other coalition home constituencies that -- that's (ph) so important for us.


AMANPOUR: From political considerations of today to the lessons of history. More with General McChrystal when we come back.


AMANPOUR: The White House this week gave reporters a behind-the- scenes look at their lengthy strategy negotiations. Turns out that early on, General McChrystal believed that he had been given a clear mission to defeat the Taliban. But that was to change.


AMANPOUR: When you first listened to President Obama's strategy in March and you were sent to implement that, what did you think it meant? What did you think your mission was then?

MCCHRYSTAL: I believe that President Obama, his intent was to reverse Taliban momentum and provide the Afghans an opportunity to secure themselves. I think we've continued to focus on that as time goes forward, and now I think we've got the resourcing about right.

AMANPOUR: But would you admit the mission has been downgraded somewhat, limited?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think the process we've gone through is really -- it has been more refined and more sharpened, is the way I would say it, the understanding that -- because it's -- it's easy to view a mission very wide if you don't really focus on it. And the process that President Obama took us through was very helpful in causing everybody to focus and understand what each word of each objective meant. And so I think that's been very valuable.

AMANPOUR: And you were also quoted in the New York Times as saying, "Admiral Mullen specifically said to me" -- this is back then when you were sent out -- "You go out there, you decide what needs to be done, and you tell me whatever you need to do that. Don't constrain yourself because of politics. You tell me what you need." Do you feel constrained because of politics?

MCCHRYSTAL: No, I -- I don't. In fact, when Admiral Mullen gave me that guidance, of course, every leader wants that kind of guidance, and I got the same from Secretary Gates, when I was instructed to write our initial assessment, which we -- we produced as a team there, I was told to be candid and straightforward, and -- and we did that.

And that -- we received no pushback from it. And then as we went through the decision-making process, at every stage, not only was I encouraged to speak my mind, it was demanded.

AMANPOUR: When you -- when you wrote your report and then it was leaked, were you surprised by the furor it caused, your initial report, saying you needed more troops and that America was potentially on the brink of defeat there?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think that I knew that the assessment was going to put a focus on the subject that many people probably had not put before that.

AMANPOUR: Were you surprised by the public sort of airing it got and how heated a debate?

MCCHRYSTAL: I believe that that certainly was more intense than I think a lot of people expected. At the end of the day, I believe this entire process was probably very healthy, because we are now coming out with a clear decision after a very healthy debate.

AMANPOUR: Some people say there are no good options for Afghanistan. Do you believe that, for what the U.S. can do in Afghanistan?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think there are no easy options. I think there are good options, and I think that we're en route to one now.

AMANPOUR: Everybody, of course, wants to know how you're going to work with Ambassador Eikenberry. Are you friends now? Are you on the same page? Are you going to be able to have a close relationship in -- in implementing this new strategy?

MCCHRYSTAL: We were friends before. As I told people, back in 2002, before he went out, we had dinner, and we talked. We've been friends through all of this.

AMANPOUR: Were you surprised at the cable that he sent back to the White House, to Washington, saying, essentially, no more new troops until we can get the Afghan government in line?

MCCHRYSTAL: All of the things, the concerns he talked about I was aware of, and we had talked through it through this entire progress. Remember, the series of VTCs, which were typically very late night, early morning for us, gave us an opportunity, as we meet constantly every week there, just to talk through things. So I wasn't surprised by the things that he identified as risks. In fact, if you go back to my initial assessment, most of those risks are in that assessment, as well.

AMANPOUR: Were you surprised that they got into a cable? Did you know that they got into a cable to the White House?

MCCHRYSTAL: I saw the cable after the VTC, because I was in Kandahar and actually participated in that VTC from there, so I saw it after the cable had gone in.

AMANPOUR: How did you feel about it?

MCCHRYSTAL: I -- I was happy that the debate that we were having got everything on the table. Again, I think the most important thing we have now is having had a clear process to come to this decision, as you said, there's no easy decision here, there's no easy outcome, I think it was critical for the leadership of the United States and for NATO to have through this kind of process and then come out with resolve.

AMANPOUR: You've said -- and many commanders say -- that success takes time. Do you have the time? Do you believe you will be given the time for success in Afghanistan?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think we will. I think that we can also make that time with the Afghan people by operating in a way that they recognize as in their interest.

AMANPOUR: You know, a lot of people are getting their lessons from Vietnam. Every time you turn around, a leader or a congressperson or a journalist or an opinion-maker is quoting Vietnam, and they're talking about how the invalid domino theory is playing very heavily on their mind, and many people are trying to say that there's a questionable theory about dominoes in Afghanistan, Pakistan and around the region, in other words, the whole contagion of Islamic extremism.

Is that a safe area of debate? Or do you believe that there's no question that extremism will breed and cause more extremism?

MCCHRYSTAL: I believe that looking at lessons on experiences like Vietnam is critical. I don't think you should take -- take counsel of your fears on everything you see, because every situation is unique.

I think extremism is a real threat to the world, not just to the United States, but particularly to the nations that are affected by it right at home. So the degree to which we can partner with people to help them work that out is -- is essential.

AMANPOUR: Do you worry that these kinds of insurgents who defeated one superpower, the Soviet Union back in 1989, might get a lot of extra energy, extra recruitment ability, extra credibility if they defeat another superpower, the United States?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think they could try to make that case. I don't consider the Taliban in the same league with many of the Mujahideen that defeated the Soviet Union. Many of the people that we work with in Afghanistan, in fact, fought bravely through that entire period, and they are absolutely opposed to the insurgency as it comes now.

So I think those are very different experiences. And I think that, because of that, the Taliban-led insurgency doesn't have the legitimacy that a nationalist rising would. I just don't think that they are that kind of entity. You look back when they up -- when they rose as a people -- not all of them, but great -- against the Soviets, it was very different from what's now.

AMANPOUR: In what way?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, when you talk to Afghans now, if you try to draw that analogy, they look at you, and they go, "It's absolutely different. The Taliban are not that kind of entity. They're -- they're a threat to a nation that is existing."

AMANPOUR: And what about the graveyard of empires? Everybody says, "Oh, Afghanistan, we can never win in Afghanistan. Look, they defeated the British; they defeated the Soviets."

MCCHRYSTAL: I think very different aims. They defeated the -- the British twice, who were trying to -- to implement foreign policy objectives that were -- were really in opposition to what Afghans wanted. And, of course, Brit conduct also played to that. You know, the -- the dealing with Afghan women and all is one of the causes of the 1842 disaster.

The Soviets, of course, did two things wrong, or they did a number of things wrong. One was the way they operated. But another was they were trying to -- to affect society in a way that was just very distasteful, in some ways, things we'd agree with. They were trying to put in women's rights, but that wasn't selling in the countryside.

AMANPOUR: And, finally, what do you listen to on your iPod? I ask you this because there have been pictures of you running with those -- the iPod ear things hanging down. Everybody wants to know what you're listening to.

MCCHRYSTAL: Usually books. I'm listening to one right now about George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette and their relationship during the -- the revolution.

AMANPOUR: And any lessons for what you're going through right now?

MCCHRYSTAL: I've listened to a lot of books about George Washington and -- and a lot of books, pretty eclectic things. I think what you take away from George Washington is, it is always tough to include the ability to work with all the different players on it. I certainly don't -- don't even stand in the shadow of leaders like Washington or Lafayette, except that we've got a tough problem in front of us. And so what I'll try to do is be a good team member as we -- as we focus our way forward.

AMANPOUR: General McChrystal, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

MCCHRYSTAL: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: Next, our "Postscript." Criticized by some for the surge, President Obama uses the Nobel Prize to embrace the just use of military might.


AMANPOUR: Now, our "Postscript." A war president received a Nobel Peace Prize this week in Norway. Barack Obama has come under much criticism for winning it too early, untried, untested. For winning it, as he sends 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. But in his Nobel lecture. President Obama laid out the moral parameters and defined the concept of a just war.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must begin by acknowledging a hard truth. We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations acting individually or in concert will find the use of force not only necessary, but morally justified.


AMANPOUR: As we consider what President Obama said there, we want to leave you with the sounds of Afghan musician Ahmad Zahir back from 1979 just before the Soviet invasion when Afghanistan was last truly at peace. And with that, some pictures of the current war by "Associated Press" photographer David Guttenfelder. Thank you for joining us.