the retired general and former head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was shocked
by the Rolling Stone article that led
to his firing, he reveals in a soon-to-be-published memoir.
"Sir, we have a problem," McChrystal aide Charlie Flynn told McChrystal upon
waking him up at 2:00 in the morning one night in Afghanistan. "The Rolling
Stone article is out and it's really bad."
"'How in the world could that story have been a problem?' I
thought, stunned," McChrystal wrote in the memoir, which is set to be released
Jan. 7. (The Cable obtained a copy of
the book independently from a local bookstore and was not a party to a
publisher's embargo on the information contained within.)
McChrystal was referring to the article "The
Runaway General," by Rolling Stone
correspondent Michael Hastings, in
which Hastings details his time with McChrystal's staff on a stay over in Paris
in 2010. In the article, Hasting documents McChrystal staffers insulting top
Obama administration officials including Vice President Joe Biden and the late Amb. Richard
Holbrooke. Obama recalled McChrystal to Washington and demanded his
resignation shortly after the article's publication.
McChrystal does not mention Hastings by name, but he does
describe the Rolling Stone affair as
a failed attempt to give the reporter an insight into the brotherhood of his
"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. Regardless of how I judged the story
for fairness or accuracy, responsibility was mine. And its ultimate effect was
immediately clear to me."
McChrystal said he was called back to Washington that night,
but he already knew his career in the military was over and decided to resign
"From the moment I'd seen the article, I'd known there were
different options on how to act, and react, to the storm I knew I would face,"
he wrote. "But I knew only one decision was right for the moment and for the
mission. I didn't try to figure out what others might do; no hero's or mentor's
example came to mind. I called no one for advice."
The Rolling Stone article
was not the first time McChrystal had run afoul of the leadership in
Washington. He also reflects in his book on the angst following his October 2009
speech at London's Institute for Strategic Studies, where he rejected
the idea of a counterterrorism-focused mission in Afghanistan, right in the
middle of the White House's internal policy review.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen woke McChrystal in the middle of the night to
communicate the administration's concerns over his remarks. But McChrystal wrote that neither he nor
President Barack Obama raised the
issue of the speech when the two met the next day for a previously scheduled
meeting aboard Air Force One in Copenhagen.
"My response (to a reporter's question in London) was
reported as a rebuttal of other policy options for Afghanistan and as criticism
of the vice president's views," he wrote. "It wasn't intended as such, but I
could have said it better."
Overall, McChrystal's book paints a portrait of a commander
who was not well-suited to handling the intense media spotlight that come with
being the leader of a controversial war during a period of domestic turmoil. He
was also taken aback that his strategic assessment in the fall of 2009 calling
for 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan was leaked to the press as well.
"In retrospect, I never felt entirely the same after the
leak of the strategic assessment and then the unexpected storm raised by the
London talk," McChrystal wrote. "I recognized, perhaps too slowly, the extent
which politics, personalities, and other factors would complicate a course
that, under the best of circumstances, would be remarkably difficult to
In his book, McChrystal also defends his actions related to
the death of Army ranger and NFL star Pat
Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2010. McChrystal
led the process of recommending Tillman for a Silver Star, which included reporting
"devastating enemy fire." Later it
was revealed that there was no enemy fire and Tillman had been killed by
accident by coalition forces.
"[McChrystal] deliberately helped cover up Pat's death
and he has never adequately apologized to us for doing that," Mary Tillman, Pat's mother, told
ABC News in 2011. Pat's brother Kevin testified to Congress that Army leaders
including McChrystal misled the family, altered witness statements, and printed
incorrect details on Tillman's Silver Star commendation, all as part
of a campaign of "deliberate and calculated lies."
McChrystal has said before that he failed to properly review
the Silver Star recommendation and that it was not "well written." In his book,
McChrystal insists that there was no intentional cover-up.
"Five investigations were conducted and accusations of
intentional deception, cover-up, and exploitation of Corporal Tillman's death
for political purposes were propagated. Sadly, truth and trust were lost in
this process," McChrystal wrote. "Genuine concerns over slow and incomplete
communication with the family increasingly became mixed with suspicions of
McChrystal said he intended to be forthright with the family
and assumed they would be notified that fratricide was a possibility in
Tillman's death. But he stood by the decision to issue the Silver Star
commendation with incomplete information.
"In the citation, we thus sought to document what I believe
was his heroism, without drawing official conclusions about friendly fire that
were still premature," he wrote. "Any errors, which I should have caught, were
not the result of any intention to misrepresent or mislead."