Retired Army Gen. McChrystal points out 'deficit of trust' in book
WASHINGTON — Speaking out for the first time since his Army career abruptly ended, retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal speaks of a “deficit of trust” between the White House and Defense Department but takes the blame for a Rolling Stone story and contemptuous comments attributed to his staff about members of the Obama administration.
“Regardless of how I judged the story for fairness or accuracy, responsibility was mine,” the former commander in Afghanistan writes in his memoir, which will be released on Monday.
McChrystal recounts in “My Share of the Task” how he learned of the article that Rolling Stone now touts on its website as the story “that changed history.”
“Sir, we have a problem,” McChrystal aide Charlie Flynn told the general on waking him at 2 a.m. in Afghanistan. “The Rolling Stone article is out, and it's really bad.”
Michael Hastings, a freelance reporter, had been given extraordinary access to the general's inner circle. The profile included a description of the first meeting with the commander in chief a week after Barack Obama became president in 2009.
“According to sources familiar with the meeting,” Hastings wrote, “McChrystal thought Obama looked ‘uncomfortable and intimidated' by the roomful of military brass.”
An adviser to McChrystal dismissed the first one-on-one meeting between Obama and McChrystal, the newly appointed Afghanistan commander, as “a 10-minute photo op.”
The article anonymously quoted McChrystal's aides deriding, among others, Vice President Joe Biden, who had disagreed with the general's strategy that called for more troops in Afghanistan.
“I was surprised by the tone and direction of the article,” McChrystal wrote. “For a number of minutes I felt as though I'd likely awaken from a dream, but the situation was real.”
Obama recalled McChrystal to Washington. The general writes that the choice to resign as commander in Afghanistan was his own.
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 the media.
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.
Then-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 writes of 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 that the timetable would embolden the Taliban.
Tillman, ‘enemy fire'
McChrystal defends his actions related to the death of Army Ranger and NFL star Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004.
McChrystal was dogged by allegations of a cover-up because he had approved a Silver Star for valor with a citation that stated Tillman had been cut down by “devastating enemy fire.”
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 military and political leaders that friendly fire was a possibility.
The Pentagon later cleared him of wrongdoing.