A veteran commander of top-secret special operations took charge of the nearly 90,000 US and NATO troops in Afghanistan yesterday, promising to shield Afghans from civilian casualties that have cost Western troops support.
“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,” US General Stanley McChrystal said at a ceremony on the lawn of NATO’s Kabul headquarters.
He was presented with a flag of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force by a German army general representing the alliance. A uniformed US military band played the Afghan and US national anthems beneath flags of NATO countries, flying at half staff in honor of fallen troops.
Repeating a theme that has become a mantra of US counter-insurgency strategy, McChrystal said the foreign troops needed to earn the “support and trust of the Afghan people.”
“If we gain that trust we cannot lose. If we lose that trust we cannot win,” he said.
He arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday after winning backing from European allies, a month after being named by US President Barack Obama to succeed US General David McKiernan, abruptly removed from command of a war US officials said was not being won.
On arrival, McChrystal met Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who pressed him to avoid civilian casualties, Karzai’s office said.
McChrystal takes command midway through a massive build-up of US forces that will see their numbers more than double from 32,000 at the end of last year to 68,000 by the end of this year. He also commands about 30,000 troops from other NATO allies.
Washington considers Taliban-led insurgencies in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan to be its main security threat and is diverting tens of thousands of troops to Afghanistan from Iraq.
US forces say the number of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan is at its highest since the militants were driven out of power in retaliation for shielding al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks on the US nearly eight years ago.
Fighting is expected to intensify over the next months as more troops deploy ahead of an August presidential election.
Civilian deaths caused by foreign troops hunting insurgents have angered many Afghans and have been the main source of friction between Karzai’s government and the US.
The issue sparked anti-US demonstrations after a US airstrike last month that the Afghan government says killed 140 civilians, mostly children.
Washington acknowledges mistakes in that strike and says 20 to 35 civilians died along with about 60 people it believes were fighters.
McChrystal’s background has raised some eyebrows: For most of the last six years he led a cadre of super-secret US special forces raiders in both Iraq and Afghanistan, tasked with hunting, capturing and assassinating insurgent leaders.
He has also held other senior posts, most recently as director of the Joint Staff in Washington. But much of his career is classified and his NATO biography leaves out many details.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal this month he said he had learned that targeted killings, like those he has carried out for much of his recent career, were not enough to defeat an insurgency.
“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. “Decapitation strategies don’t work.”
“You’re going to have to convince people, not kill them,” McChrystal said.
An Australian university student who has never visited China and has only a modest social media following would seem an unlikely target for the Chinese government. However, when a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman personally denounced Drew Pavlou at a news conference, it was just the next phase in an extraordinary campaign against the 21-year-old that has fueled concerns over China’s targeting of critics overseas. Pavlou first placed himself in the superpower’s sights when in July last year he organized a small sit-in at the University of Queensland, where he studies, to protest against various Chinese government policies. Since then, the Global
BEFORE WINTER COMES: Snow cuts off roads into Ladakh for four months or more each year, so the crunch is on to get food, tents and high-altitude equipment to Leh From deploying mules to large transport aircraft, the Indian military has activated its entire logistics network to transport supplies to thousands of troops for a harsh winter along a bitterly disputed Himalayan border with China. In the past few months, one of India’s biggest military logistics exercises in years has brought vast quantities of ammunition, equipment, fuel, winter supplies and food into Ladakh, a region bordering Tibet that India administers as a union territory, officials said. The move was triggered by a border standoff with China in the snow deserts of Ladakh that began in May and escalated in June into hand-to-hand
Since her personal telephone number was posted online, Hong Kong democracy advocate and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions chairperson Carol Ng has received menacing calls from strangers and been bombarded with messages calling her a “cockroach.” She is not alone. A sophisticated and shady Web site called HK Leaks has ramped up its “doxxing” — where people’s personal details are published online — of Hong Kong democracy advocates, targeting those it says have broken Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Promoted by groups linked to the Chinese Chinese Communist Party and hosted on Russia-based servers, HK Leaks has become the most prominent “doxxing”
A Malaysian student whose cellphone was stolen while he was sleeping has tracked down the culprit: a monkey who took photo and video selfies with the device before abandoning it. Zackrydz Rodzi, 20, on Wednesday said that his mobile phone was missing from his bedroom when he woke up on Saturday. He found the phone’s casing under his bed, but there was no sign of robbery in his house in Johor state. JUNGLE When his father saw a monkey the next day, he searched in the jungle behind his house. Using his brother’s cellphone to call his own device, he found it covered