President Obama is rethinking his entire strategy in Afghanistan after the new commander there stunned the White House with a warning the war could be lost if he doesn't get more troops in the next 12 months. General Stanley McChrystal is up against an enemy that holds the initiative, and he's working with an Afghan government shot through with corruption.
Even with more troops, he warns, there has to be "a dramatic change in how we operate." That stark assessment comes from a man who is perhaps this country's most battle-hardened general and, according to those who have served with him, a one-of-a-kind commander.
60 Minutes and correspondent David Martin went to Afghanistan to spend a week with McChrystal as he races against the calendar. We found him to be blunt, hard charging and fed up with the way the U.S. has been fighting the war for the past eight years. His assessments are as close to an unvarnished war briefing as you're likely to get.
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Asked if things are better or worse than he expected, General McChrystal told Martin, "They are probably a little worse."
"What's worse than you thought?" Martin asked.
"Well, I think that in some areas that the breadth of violence, the geographic spread of violence, places to the north and to the west, are a little more than I would have gathered," McChrystal replied.
That violence is catalogued in the briefing books he scans every morning at his headquarters in Kabul. But he doesn't trust them to give him a real sense of what's happening out there amid all the ambushes and firefights. Two or three times each week he gets on a helicopter to see for himself.
"You can listen to every radio transmission, down to squad level, and you can watch from the Predator, you can see what's going on. But you can't kid yourself that you know what's going on. But there's a danger that you do, because you hear and you see it and you think 'Okay, I know.' But you're not on the ground with that guy. You don't feel it. You don't hear the bullets. You just can't make an assessment," McChrystal told Martin while they flew above the Afghan countryside.
Flying over terrain that has defeated invaders from the British to the Soviets, McChrystal knows he has to do more than just fine tune a strategy that after eight years of war appears on the brink of failure.
So he has issued a new directive on counterinsurgency operations, telling his troops in writing: "We must change the way we think, act and operate."
Protecting the Afghan people - many of them living in impoverished villages - is now more important than killing the enemy, even if that means taking more risks.
"The parents of kids over here can't be too happy to hear that the commander is telling them to accept more risk," Martin noted.
"This is something that takes a tremendous amount of understanding. What I'm really telling people is the greatest risk we can accept is to lose the support of the people here," McChrystal explained. "If the people are against us, we cannot be successful. If the people view us as occupiers and the enemy, we can't be successful and our casualties will go up dramatically."