WASHINGTON — Speaking out for the first time since he resigned, retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal takes the blame for a Rolling Stone article and the unflattering comments attributed to his staff about the Obama administration that ended his Afghanistan command and army career.
“Regardless of how I judged the story for fairness or accuracy, responsibility was mine,” McChrystal writes in his new memoir, in a carefully worded denouncement of the story.
The Rolling Stone article anonymously quoted McChrystal’s aides as criticizing Obama’s team, including Vice President Joe Biden. Biden had disagreed with McChrystal’s strategy that called for more troops in Afghanistan. Biden preferred to send a smaller counterterrorism and training force – a policy the White House is now considering as it transitions troops from the Afghan war.
McChrystal adds the choice to resign as U.S. commander in Afghanistan was his own.
“I called no one for advice,” he writes in “My Share of the Task,” describing his hasty plane ride back to Washington only hours after the article appeared in 2010, to offer his resignation to President Barack Obama. McChrystal was immediately replaced by his then-boss, Gen. David Petraeus.
McChrystal devotes a scant page-and-a-half to the incident that ended his 34-year military career and soured trust between the military and media. The book, published by Portfolio/Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, comes out Monday.
The closest McChrystal comes to revealing his regret over allowing a reporter weeks of unfettered access with few ground rules comes much earlier in the book. “By nature I tended to trust people and was typically open and transparent. … But such transparency would go astray when others saw us out of context or when I gave trust to those few who were unworthy of it.”
McChrystal does try to explain the tensions that helped lead to Obama’s decision to accept his resignation. At the center was the wrangle over McChrystal’s recommendation for 40,000 more U.S. troops in Afghanistan – and conflicting guidance.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told McChrystal to request the number he thought he needed. White House staff signaled that the newly elected president wanted to keep the levels down.
McChrystal describes how he presented his war goal to the White House as “defeat the Taliban” and “secure the population,” and was advised to lower his sights to “degrade” the Taliban.
Obama approved the addition of 30,000 troops, while simultaneously announcing a withdrawal date of 2014. McChrystal did not challenge those decisions, though he says he worried the timetable would embolden the Taliban.
“If I felt like the decision to set a withdrawal date would have been fatal to the success of our mission, I’d have said so,” he writes.
As for the Rolling Stone fallout, a Pentagon inquiry into the magazine’s profile cleared McChrystal of wrongdoing and called into question the accuracy of the June 2010 story. The review, released in April 2011, concluded that not all of the events at issue happened as reported in the article.
Rolling Stone issued a statement saying it stood behind freelance writer Michael Hastings’ story, which it called “accurate in every detail.”
There is no bitterness or score-settling with the White House staff that had pushed for his departure over the article. McChrystal and the White House moved beyond the matter, and first lady Michelle Obama invited McChrystal to serve on the board of Joining Forces, a White House initiative for troops and their families.
The book details the general’s rise through the ranks, from his time as a West Point cadet to serving in the 82nd Airborne Corps and earning his Special Forces Green Beret, and then commanding a battalion of the 75th Ranger regiment.
McChrystal describes only briefly an incident that nearly ended his career years earlier: allegations of a cover-up involving the friendly fire incident that killed football-star-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman. McChrystal approved a Silver Star for valor, with a citation that stated Tillman had been cut down by “devastating enemy fire.”
But as reports came in from the troops at the scene, McChrystal realized Tillman may have died by fratricide. He sent an oblique warning to his superiors that President George W. Bush should delete mention of enemy fire from his remarks, when presenting the award to Tillman’s family at his memorial service.
McChrystal told the investigators that he believed Tillman deserved the award, and that he wanted to warn top U.S. military and political leadership that friendly fire was a possibility. The Pentagon later cleared him of wrongdoing.
In the book, McChrystal writes only that he followed “standard practice” to quickly process a Silver Star for Tillman’s actions on the battlefield, in time to present it to the family at the memorial service. He does not explain the incident further.
The man portrayed in the Rolling Stone article as arrogant comes off as far more down to earth in the book.
McChrystal writes of his doubts when he was asked to take charge of the military’s top counterterrorism unit, the Joint Special Operations Command. He worried the troops would reject him because he had not served in any of its elite units such as the Army’s Delta Force or the Navy’s SEAL Team 6.
He says he helped JSOC evolve from a disconnected organization that was slow to catch targets early on in Iraq, because the operators lacked the manpower or communications equipment to analyze intelligence they gathered quickly enough. It eventually grew into closely networked teams that worked with the CIA and FBI and others to take down up to a dozen targets a night in Afghanistan, with intelligence gathered from the first target leading to the others.
At the request of Pentagon security reviewers, the former general made famous by his command at JSOC doesn’t use that term, instead substituting “Task Force 714″ for JSOC, “Green team” for Delta, and “Blue” for SEAL Team 6.
Those are part of the changes the general agreed to make, because those units and their missions are classified, according to two U.S. officials briefed on the security review. They spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The review process delayed the release of the book, which had been scheduled to come out in December. Pentagon officials decided to give the book another read, after a member of the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden released an account of the raid without submitting the manuscript for a security review.
McChrystal said he “accepted many suggested changes and redactions, some reluctantly, particularly where public knowledge of facts and events has outpaced existing security guidelines,” in order to “keep faith with the comrades I had served alongside.”