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McChrystal: Marines' gains in southern Afghanistan a model

Exclusive: US top military commander attributes success to lessons learned in Iraq

The new commander for the international troops in Afghanistan, U.S. general Stanley McChrystal, speaks during a ceremony in Kabul on June 15, 2009. McChrystal, a veteran commander of top-secret special operations, has taken charge of the nearly 90,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, promising to limit the civilian deaths that have cost Western troops Afghan support. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

DARVESHAN, Afghanistan — Incremental security gains that U.S. Marines are making in Afghanistan's Helmand province are proving to be a model for successful counterinsurgency, the top military commander here said Friday.

International Security Assistance Force commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal's assessment came after patrolling the bazaar area of Darveshan, the government seat of Helmand's Garmsir district.

McChrystal — who eschewed body armor, donning only his "soft cover" cap — conducted the foot patrol with commanders from 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, as well as Afghan security forces from the army, border patrol and local police. The bazaar was teeming with activity, as merchants sold melons, ice cream and flat bread. Just a year ago, according to Marine and Afghan commanders, heavy fighting between Taliban and ISAF forces in the area had left the bazaar completely empty.

"There are other places happening like this right now but this is the model that ... we want all our forces, the mindset we want them to start with," McChrystal told GlobalPost as he walked through the market. "There is no set model," he clarified. "You can't go at this and say, 'two of this, three of that.'

"If you understand that it's all about people — protecting people and respecting people — then everything else sort of drives from there. All the other decisions against that criteria, they don't become easy but they become much more clearer."

McChrystal said he was last in the area about two years ago. Seeing improvements to this city center gives "the sense of hope," he said. While the commander has in the past called for more troops in Afghanistan, he would not comment on how many more might be needed in this region to push out gains farther south into Helmand.

Gains are a result of lessons learned in Iraq, as well as from taking history into account, he said. "Almost every generation has got to learn it for themselves and this generation happens to have had a lot of experience in the last few years and I think we just keep getting better at it," he said.