WASHINGTON, June 15, 2009 – Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal assumed command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan today, vowing that the coalition will prevail despite a struggle he conceded will be “long and hard.” “2009 will be a critical year for Afghanistan, and a critical year for our coalition,” McChrystal said at a morning assumption-of-command ceremony at the ISAF headquarters in Kabul. “Although we face many challenges, with your steadfast commitment, professionalism and dedication and with the help and support of our Afghan friends and the international community, we will prevail.”

McChrystal acknowledged the legacy and achievements of Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, whom he replaces as commander of ISAF and U.S. Forces Afghanistan. “His tireless efforts, clear thinking and calm direction have placed ISAF in a position to develop real momentum in the coming months,” McChrystal said. “To a fellow soldier and friend – my gratitude and thanks.”

The incoming commander acknowledged the challenges ahead to achieve a peaceful, stable and free Afghanistan. “It will require the full commitment and talent of each of us, as well as the continued support and resolve of the International community,” he told an assembly of representatives from Afghanistan, the United Nations, the NATO alliance and 14 non-NATO nations supporting the coalition. “But together we will prevail.”

While this solidarity is the coalition’s strength, “it is not without cost,” he said, acknowledging the losses and sacrifices experienced by many during the past eight years.

“Their sacrifices and the contributions that you and your families are making today are critical to the future and stability of this country, the stability of this region and to the security of all of our nations,” he said.

Central to the mission, he said, are the people of Afghanistan themselves.

“In reality, they are the mission,” he said. “We must protect them from violence – whatever its nature. We must respect their religion and their traditions. Each of us, from rifleman to regional commander, from village to city, must execute our mission with the realization that displaying respect, cultural sensitivity, accountability and transparency are essential to our critical task of gaining the support and trust of the Afghan people.

“If we gain that trust, we cannot lose,” he said. “If we lose that trust, we cannot win.”

McChrystal emphasized the critical balance the mission demands. “While operating with care, we will not be timid,” he said. “We must accept risks, endure hardships and find strength within ourselves to be worthy of the cause for which so many have fallen.”

And as the conflict approaches its eight-year anniversary, McChrystal said, it’s important to “recapture the excitement and inspiration that ignited this country upon the fall of the Taliban in 2001.”

“We must rededicate ourselves to the Afghan people and help them build a government and a future for their country that they can be proud of,” he said.

He acknowledged the task has no simple solution or silver bullet. “The situation is complicated, and success will not be quick – or easy,” he said. “This effort will try our endurance, challenge habits and processes with which we are comfortable and force us to adapt how we operate.”

Mistakes are inevitable as this effort continues, he conceded. “But we will focus and learn – and learn quickly,” he said.

McChrystal cited additional NATO troops who will deploy this year to key regions of Afghanistan, providing the manpower required to conduct “population-centric counterinsurgency operations.” These forces will partner closely with the increasingly capable Afghan security forces.

“Capitalizing on this strength and new authorities, we can work together to unhinge the nexus between narco-criminals, venal officials and insurgents – not disproportionately targeting the most vulnerable participants in this corrosive industry,” McChrystal said. “And finally, an increased focus on the regional aspects of this conflict will pay dividends across the borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Building on what’s already been accomplished, McChrystal vowed, “we will do more.”

“Together, we will foster reliable security and create the space and the discipline for responsive government, sustainable development initiatives and a new flourishing of Afghanistan’s vibrant and varied culture,” he said. “We are all partners in this endeavor, and I am honored to be part of this team.”

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