WASHINGTON (CN) – The nominee for commander of American and allied forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, testified Tuesday that Afghan civilian casualties need to be reduced, said the war would be a hard slog and apologized for his role in the cover up of football star Patrick Tillman’s death by friendly fire in 2004.
“I was a part of that and I apologize for it,” he said during his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I’ve learned from it.”
McChrystal also testified about the treatment of prisoners under his command and the reduction of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
He called civilian casualties in Afghanistan “the critical issue.” How the United States handles cultural issues and civilian casualties will likely define our nation’s success or failure, he said.
One way of reducing civilian casualties and building up the reputation of the United States would be to obtain more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, McChrystal proposed. “We never have enough.”
Before taking the appointment in Afghanistan, McChrystal would not definitively say whether more troops would be needed, but he argued that troop increases are not the only solution. “What I do know is that a military strategy will not succeed.”
Earlier in his military career, McChrystal was the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, which is credited with killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda leader in Iraq.
He is known as the opposite of an armchair warrior, often going on raids with his troops. When Zarqawi was killed, McChrystal went to the bombed hut to make sure the troops got their man.
When the subject of the hearing turned to the stress positions, use of dogs, and sleep depravation used on detainees of special operations units under McChrystal’s supervision, he said that the techniques made him uncomfortable and that he had reduced their use when he took command of the units in 2003.
He placed some of the blame on the prisons, which he said were “physically insufficient” at the beginning of his command, and added that his forces “lacked organizational experience.”
But McChrystal assured the committee that every allegation of abuse was investigated, and said, “Every month we got better at it.”
McChrystal promised that he would strictly enforce “the treatment of detainees under U.S. and international law” if confirmed to the position of commander in Afghanistan.
McChrystal also addressed the Tillman matter for the first time on record, where Tillman, a pro football player who left his lucrative career to fight in Afghanistan, was killed by friendly fire.
After Tillman’s death, McChrystal forwarded the recommendation that Tillman receive the Silver Star award, and commended Tillman for placing himself “in the line of devastating enemy fire,” despite sending a separate and private message up the chain of command that said Tillman was likely killed by friendly fire.
McChrystal attributed much of the problem to ineptitude instead of bad intentions. He admitted that he should have paid more attention to the Silver Star recommendation before signing it, and held that when the military issued the award, the cause of death had not been completely determined.
“Our policy is to give the reward rapidly so it can be presented at the family during the memorial,” he explained.
He also said that fighting in Afghanistan was still going on, which added to the confusion.
Nonetheless, McChrystal said he still thinks Tillman earned the medal. “I don’t believe that the circumstance of death detract from his commitment,” he said, and an army review had cleared McChrystal of any blame.
Apart from explaining past actions, McChrystal shared his outlook on the war in Afghanistan, saying he believes the war is winnable, “but it is not easily winnable.” The United States cannot destroy Al Qaeda without getting rid of Osama bin Laden, he asserted, but he also cautioned that snatching the Al Qaeda leader will not alone bring about the group’s downfall.
Members from both parties praised McChrystal and many indicated they would support his nomination as Commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force and of the U.S. Forces Afghanistan.