LONDON — Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of both the U.S. and NATO war effort in Afghanistan, called on Thursday for a dramatic change in tactics in the faltering war against Taliban insurgents and said it would be wrong to lower military goals despite recent setbacks.
McChrystal said conventional military tactics have proved counterproductive and are costing coalition forces support among Afghan civilians who doubt whether the Americans will stay long enough to bring security.
"We don't win by destroying the Taliban," he said. "We don't win by body count. We don't win by the number of successful military raids or attacks, we win when the people decide we win."
McChrystal is reported to be seeking an additional 40,000 U.S. troops for Afghanistan and is lobbying European leaders to send more soldiers as well.
The four-star general spoke to a group of British academics and security specialists at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a day after taking part via video link in a White House Situation Room review of Afghan policy chaired by President Barack Obama.
The plainspoken McChrystal has made waves in Washington and London with his downbeat assessment of the eight-year effort to keep Afghanistan from becoming — again — a safe haven for Taliban extremists and their al-Qaida allies, who used it as a base while planning the Sept. 11 attacks.
Asked by the audience if it would be sensible to lower America's military goals and limit the war effort to eliminating the al-Qaida presence, McChrystal said it would be wrong to give up on the idea of bringing some security to the Afghan population.
"A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a shortsighted strategy," he said.
Testimony blocked: Democrats in the U.S. Senate voted Thursday to reject a call for McChrystal to personally explain his war strategy by Nov. 15. Without McChrystal's testimony, "We don't have any input into the decisionmaking process," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., complained before the 59-40 party-line vote.
U.N. election bias alleged: A dozen Afghan lawmakers who support Abdullah Abdullah, Afghan President Hamid Karzai's main challenger, called Thursday for criminal investigations into the country's disputed presidential election. Ahmad Behzad, who represents the western province of Herat, said the top U.N. envoy, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, should leave the country as he has lost all credibility. The lawmakers' complaint came a day after Peter Galbraith, the top American U.N. official in Afghanistan, was fired in wake of a dispute with Eide over how to deal with fraud charges in the Aug. 20 balloting.
Airstrike casualties: Afghan tribal elders said eight people, at least five of them civilians, were killed in an airstrike on Wednesday. An American military spokeswoman, Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, confirmed the airstrike in Helmand province but declined to estimate the number of casualties before a review of the attack.