McChrystal: Still 'Lack Of Legitimacy' In Afghan Governance



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Host Rachel Martin talks with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. McChrystal says success in Afghanistan will be defined not by the United States, but by Afghans themselves.

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For at least the next few years, Afghans will have help from the U.S. military, even as American troops are reducing their presence. Gen. Stanley McChrystal led U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan. He's retired now, but speaking out about his experience. Back in 2009, Gen. McChrystal told the White House that there were two major threats to Afghanistan: the Taliban, and the Afghan government itself - riddled with corruption. and unable to meet the basic needs of the people there. I asked him if that's still the case.

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: Rachel, I think that there are still great shortcomings in Afghan governance, at the national level all the way down to the local level. There are issues of corruption; there are also the issues of just lack of capacity. In some cases, it's not corrupt; it's just not there. All of those things play into a lack of legitimacy of the government. The people have not learned to depend on local- or national-level governance. So, it's still a significant challenge.

But if you think about it, there are an awful lot of females in school, that wouldn't be. There's an awful lot of people achieving a level of literacy, that weren't before. And I think one of the reasons Afghans are so frightened now about 2014, is they have something to lose. If they thought that life was so bad that a Taliban return would be an improvement, then they wouldn't be frightened. They'd be happy; they'd be waiting for this national liberation. But it's the exact opposite. They are terrified that it will come, and it will push back the progress that has been made.

MARTIN: In your opinion, what is the end game in Afghanistan? What would be a definition of a successful mission?

MCCHRYSTAL: If you take it down to an Afghan farmer, for example, for them, success in the mission would be the ability to do - to live their lives without being harassed by an insurgency, without being the object of predatory warlords; to have some level of economic opportunity - not tremendous; and to have some tie to a government, not that has the kind of role in their lives that we might expect in a Western country, but to be able to rely on the government for the basics of security, access to rule of law, and things like that. I think for an Afghan, that would be success. If we try to define it differently, I think we make a big mistake. Afghanistan is Afghanistan, and I think that they need to define success so that they can work toward it.

If they think they're working towards our goals, then I think it's very difficult. And I think one of the challenges we faced over the last decade, was to a great degree, we went to Afghanistan to get rid of al-Qaida. And many Afghans felt like that remained our only focus, and that they were simply in the way, and they were not what we really cared about. And so I think we tried to change their perception; that in reality, by 2009, it was about protecting the Afghan people; about winning their support; and about empowering them to shape and make Afghanistan because that's what has to happen. Nobody from the outside will ever do that.


MARTIN: Gen. Stanley McChrystal. He's the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and the author of a new memoir, called "My Share of the Task." We'll talk with him about his book, in another part of the program.


MARTIN: And you're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.