x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

McChrystal says media gaffe was all his fault

Retired general takes the blame for unflattering comments attributed to his staff about the Obama administration that ended his Afghanistan command and army career.

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," Gen McChrystal writes in his new memoir, in a carefully worded denouncement of the story.

The Rolling Stone article anonymously quoted Gen McChrystal's aides as criticising president Barack Obama's team, including Vice President Joe Biden. Mr Biden had disagreed with Gen McChrystal's strategy that called for more troops in Afghanistan. Mr Biden preferred to send a smaller counterterrorism and training force - a policy the White House is now considering as it withdraws troops from the Afghan war.

Gen McChrystal also said that the choice to resign as US 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 Mr Obama. Gen McChrystal was immediately replaced by Gen David Petraeus.

Gen 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. The book comes out today.

The closest Gen 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."

Gen McChrystal does try to explain the tensions that helped lead to Mr Obama's decision to accept his resignation. At the centre was the wrangle over Gen McChrystal's recommendation for 40,000 more US troops in Afghanistan - and conflicting guidance.

The defence secretary, Robert Gates, told Gen McChrystal to request the number he thought he needed. White House staff signalled that the newly elected president wanted to keep the levels down.

Gen 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.

Mr Obama approved the addition of 30,000 troops, while simultaneously announcing a withdrawal date of 2014. Gen McChrystal did not challenge those decisions, though he says he worried that 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 Gen McChrystal of wrongdoing and called into question the accuracy of the 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".