McChrystal's Frank Talk on Afghanistan

General Tells 60 Minutes U.S. Needs to "Deprogram" Bad Habits And Change How The War Is Fought

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When 60 Minutes went out on patrol with a squad from the 10th Mountain Division, they were not going into a village to root out insurgents but to offer the people protection and help with their daily lives, which the central government in Kabul has so far failed to do.

The only way to win, McChrystal insists, is to earn the support of the people.

McChrystal's new strategy says conventional military operations designed to kill the enemy can never win this war. Destroying homes and accidentally killing civilians in the process only create more insurgents and alienates the population.

In other words, for much of the past eight years, the U.S. has been sowing the seeds of its own demise.

By McChrystal's count, 265 civilians were killed by American or allied firepower in the past 12 months. He said during one of the many video conferences he holds each week that civilian casualties could make or break his strategy.

"I knew this was an important issue, but since I've been here the last two and a half months, this civilian casualty issue is much more important than I even realized. It is literally how we lose the war or in many ways how we win it," McChrystal said during a briefing.

To reduce those casualties, he took drastic action, ordering a virtual ban on air strikes against residential areas, even if hostile fire is coming from the building.

"We've got some things we absolutely have got to show them that we'll do differently. If we succeed, some of it will be despite some of the things we've done or failed to do," McChrystal explained.

"The hallmark of American military power was its overwhelming firepower. Now you're describing a situation in which firepower is almost beside the point?" Martin asked.

"You know, the favorite saying of, 'To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.' We can't operate that way. We can't walk with only a hammer in our hands," McChrystal replied.

When he walks in public, he doesn't wear a side arm or body armor.

"If we are visiting Afghans, typically the afghan governor, district or provincial governor, we see he doesn't wear body armor, and yet we're walking through his streets. I'm his guest. I think that that's important that I send a message that I trust him and I don't think I am more valuable than I think he is," McChrystal explained.

60 Minutes went with McChrystal to a market in western Afghanistan. He wanted the security thrown up around him to back off, so he could hear firsthand what the people had to say about the war.

"How can we be better? Ask him how coalition forces can be better," McChrystal asked a group of men with the help of an interpreter.

Shopkeepers told him the Taliban controls the one paved road. "If they know you have a business or you have some money, there is no way you can go through that road," one shopkeeper explained to McChrystal.

And the government can't provide basic services. "One most important problem is electricity. We need electricity. You can bring it for us?" another man asked the general.

One man said he was kidnapped by the Taliban and that they asked for ransom.

McChrystal was also told that security was good only today, and only because the American commander had come to visit.