Stan McChrystal recounts US roadblocks to Taliban manhunt
Retired Gen. Stan McChrystal relayed story of how US special forces in Afghanistan finally got their man, despite an intelligence blackout from D.C. Now a Yale professor, he spoke this week about that Taliban episode, WikiLeaks, and information-sharing with the public.
Barbara Sax/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom
The former commander of military forces in Afghanistan, retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, this week related a striking behind-the-scenes account of the US Special Operations forces hunt for Taliban insurgents, revealing US government agency roadblocks that made his job more difficult.
Speaking at the Net-Centric Warfare Conference in Washington, the former general related the story of the US pursuit of a one-legged Taliban commander who operated in Afghanistan with considerable impunity, much to the consternation of Special Operations forces. The commander regularly traveled into and out of Afghanistan to visit his Taliban troops â what McChrystal referred to as a âbattlefield circulation,â US military parlance for visits by top officers to check on their soldiers in the field.
âWe were not fast enough, and not precise enough to get him,â he said at the conference, sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advance. âSo we started trying to find out why.â
To that end, McChrystal returned to Washington to meet with âone of our intelligence agencies." He recounted the conversation. âThey said, âWell, actually, we know before he comes in when heâs going to come in, but we canât give you that information.â I said, âAll right, why?â They said, âBecause youâre JSCOC [Joint Special Operations Command] and you target people. Weâre not allowed to give you information until they are somewhere where you can target them legallyâ â which is like telling someone to 'shoot skeet, but leave the weapon in the trunk of the car.' â
Eventually McChrystal came to an agreement with the US intelligence agency. âThey agreed to tell usâ when the Taliban leader was in the country, âand I agreed not to go across the borderâ into Pakistan to get him.
Thanks to that cooperation, âHeâs dead,â McChrystal concluded.
Now a professor at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., McChrystal began his hour-long speech by remarking on what he called the âironicâ nature of his new job at the Ivy League school. âI couldnât get in a school like that,â he told the audience, âbut I grade their papers.â
McChrystal cautioned that what looks to Americans like a victory does not necessarily appear that way to the rest of the world, including Afghans. He cited the role that US funds played in helping Afghan insurgents buy weapons to drive out the Soviets in the early 1980s â which many Americans should inspire US loyalty among Afghans.
Conventional wisdom in the US is that, âThey ought to be very thankful to us because we helped our Afghan brothersâ against the Soviets, McChrystal said. But the war also left 1.2 million Afghans dead, which he estimated was proportionately equal to 15 million Americans âin todayâs numbers.â An understandable view from an Afghan fighterâs perspective might be, âWe fought them, how about a thank youâ from the US government? McChrystal pointed out.
The same goes for Iran, added McChrystal, perhaps offering a glimpse into his teaching style at Yale. âWhat do Iranians thinkâ of America? he asked his audience. McChrystal ventured an answer, âIn 1953 we overthrew their governmentâ in a CIA-backed coup and imposed a Shah who âturned out to be a despotic dictator.â He concluded, âIt doesnât matter whatâs right or wrong.â What matters, he said, is perspective.
McChrystal also offered his own take on the Wikileaks release of Pentagon secret and classified reports and State Department cables. âThe thing I hate about that is thereâs a bunch of people who want to pull backâ on information-sharing, and the WikiLeaks episode provides a good excuse to justify that. âAs soon as they see WikiLeaks they think, âGreat.â â
He called the decision by WikiLeaks to release the classified cables âunconscionable,â because Wikileaks staff members are unable to âevaluate that informationâ for the damage it might inflict on troops. But the leaks should not affect the impulse to share information among government agencies, and even with journalists who are reporting from the field. Occasionally, âYou are going to pay some price for sharing,â McChrystal said. âBut at the end of the day, itâs better.â