US commander in Afghanistan apologises for magazine article in which he criticises Barack Obama and ambassador to Kabul
General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander of all Nato-led forces in Afghanistan, has been recalled to Washington after he criticised Barack Obama’s administration in a magazine profile due to be published later this week.
A Nato official confirmed that McChrystal would travel to Washington tomorrow to explain the Rolling Stone article, in which he said that he felt betrayed by the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry. One of his aides told the magazine that McChrystal was disappointed by his first meeting with an “unprepared” Obama.
The official was unable to say how long the general would be away, but did say that McChrystal believed he had largely “sorted” the situation after immediately calling the people he had attacked in the profile to apologise.
Earlier today, McChrystal attended a meeting with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, Eikenberry and Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative who McChrystal also belittled in the magazine article.
A US diplomat said that while “the story sucked” and that McChrystal “running amok” was embarrassing, the row would not affect policy or the way the men worked together.
McChrystal issued a statement offering his “sincerest apology” for the comments and the article. “It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened,” he said.
“Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honour and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard.”
According to the article, due to be published on Friday, although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two didn’t get on from the start.
Obama felt McChrystal was too outspoken last autumn when he called for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan.
“I found that time painful,” McChrystal admitted in the article. “I was selling an unsellable position.”
Obama agreed to deploy an extra 30,000 troops but only after months of dithering that many in the military found frustrating. The troop commitment was coupled with a pledge to begin bringing them home in July 2011, setting what strategists advising McChrystal regarded as an arbitrary deadline.
McChrystal’s statement said: “I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome.”
The profile, headlined The Runaway General, emerged from several weeks of interviews and travel with McChrystal’s tight circle of aides.
Some of the strongest criticism was reserved for Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” a member of the general’s team is quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumours that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”
During a trip to Paris, McChrystal could not hide his contempt when he received a message from Holbrooke on his smartphone. “Oh not another email from Holbrooke. I don’t even want to open it,” Rolling Stone quoted him as saying.
Describing Obama’s first White House meeting as a photo-op, one aide told the magazine: “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his fucking war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The boss was pretty disappointed.”
McChrystal aides were pessimistic about the outcome of the conflict. Major General Bill Mayville, his chief of operations, is quoted as saying: “It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win. This is going to end in an argument.”
The article lists administration figures who are said to support McChrystal, including the defence secretary, Robert Gates, and the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
But the vice-president, Joe Biden, heads a list of those against him. The article quotes members of McChrystal’s team making jokes about Biden. “Biden? Did you say: Bite me?” an aide said.
Another McChrystal aide reportedly called the White House national security adviser, Jim Jones, a clown who was “stuck in 1985”.
The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: the wimps in the White House”.
Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year, favouring a narrower counterterrorism strategy.
A leaked internal document revealed that Eikenberry shared those doubts about the extra troops, saying Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy.
In the Rolling Stone article, McChrystal accused Eikenberry of blaming others.
“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so’.”
A spokeswoman for the US embassy in Kabul said: “We have seen the article and General McChrystal has already spoken to it. As Ambassador Eikenberry has said on many occasions, he and General McChrystal are both fully committed to the president’s strategy and to working together as one civilian-military team to implement it.”
Jon Boone in Kabul and Matthew Weaver
Tuesday 22 June 2010 15.26 BST
Source: The Guardian