McChrystal Spokesman Discusses Getting Local Support Ahead of Possible Kandahar Offensive
“The most important thing is to understand that before we do a military operation in Afghanistan, we really have got to get the consent of the people who are going to be affected by that operation,” Gen. Stanley McChrystal told Pentagon reporters in March, previewing his efforts to secure the support of Afghans in Kandahar before a scheduled June push to take the city out of insurgent hands. Recent complications between the Obama administration and President Hamid Karzai appeared to contribute to Karzai raising the stakes: he told a Kandahar council recently that the operation wouldn’t take place without local support, as McChrystal watched on the sidelines.
All that raised questions about whether or how McChrystal could in fact secure the local support he desires, and whether he would scotch the operation if he couldn’t. To clarify, I asked his spokesman, Air Force Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis.
“We remain committed to political dialogue in Kandahar and elsewhere: through the discussions that coalition officials have with Afghans in shuras and meetings with Afghan officials, and through the discussions that Afghan officials have with other Afghans,” Sholtis said in an email. “No one of those events is decisive, but cumulatively they should help develop a measure of consensus on the way ahead — measured, as in most domestic policy decisions, with some respect for available numbers (polls, tallies of key community leaders) but largely through the judgment of Afghan government leaders and their coalition partners.”
I asked Sholtis to clarify how McChrystal is collecting information and measuring the local sentiment in advance of the possible offensive. He didn’t want to get into detail — “it might endanger the sources” — but he indicated that the command has launched a fairly intense period of Afghan solicitation. “There are multiple discussions on the way ahead in Kandahar on
any given week at the national, provincial and local level among ISAF representatives, Afghan government officials and Kandaharis,” Sholtis said.
ISAF, the formal acronym for McChrystal’s NATO command, believes it’s already achieved “current community consensus” around a need to improve security for Kandaharis and reduce the influence of the local Taliban. “What remains to be done is determining the nature and scope of the effort to do that,” Sholtis said. So does that mean the operation could be called off? “We haven’t eliminated any options from consideration with respect to securing Kandahar.”
On Monday, a disaster on the roads outside Kandahar occurred when ISAF forces mistakenly opened fire on a civilian bus that, it was later determined, posed no threat to a military convoy. Joe Klein reports from Afghanistan that the commander of the soldiers involved in the accident went “stall to stall” at a local bazaar to try to earn back local trust. How the civilian deaths — and the prospect of more Kandaharis caught in the crossfire of a major offensive — will impact what McChrystal hears from the locals, and what he does as a result, remains to be seen.