New US commander in Afghanistan

General Stanley McChrystal promises to ensure safety of civilians

New US commander in Afghanistan

“The Afghan people are at the centre 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 honour 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 President Barack Obama to succeed 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 which will see their numbers more than double from 32,000 at the end of 2008 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 neighbouring Pakistan to be its main security threat, and is diverting tens of thousands of troops to Afghanistan from Iraq.

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