KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal formally assumed command Monday of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, taking charge at one of the most violent junctures of the eight-year-old conflict.
In addition to confronting an increasingly powerful Taliban insurgency and presiding over the largest American troop buildup of the war, the four-star general faces rising Afghan anger over deaths and injuries to civilians in the fighting.
McChrystal, speaking at a ceremony at the headquarters of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, described the safeguarding of civilian lives as central to the mission in Afghanistan.
"The Afghan people are at the center of our mission — in reality, they are our mission," he told an audience of senior commanders, Afghan officials and diplomats.
One of McChrystal's first actions upon arriving in Afghanistan over the weekend was to meet with President Hamid Karzai, who has been increasingly vocal in his denunciation of civilian casualties at the hands of Western troops. Insurgents also are responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths every year.
McChrystal assumed command following the abrupt removal last month of his predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan. The change, only midway through McKiernan's expected tenure, was seen as reflecting the Obama administration's concern that the war was going badly.
McChrystal warned there was "no simple solution" for changing the course of the Afghan conflict, which has supplanted the Iraq war as the U.S. military's chief focus.
Record numbers of international forces are in Afghanistan, including about 56,000 American troops.