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Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal: Afghanistan War was a 'failure'

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Retired General Stanley McChrystal, who led coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010, called the Afghanistan War a "failure" in a new interview with Yahoo Finance. 

But McChrystal rejected criticism that the war had constituted an impossible task from the outset. Instead, strategic mishaps prevented the U.S. from accomplishing its dual goal of establishing security and promoting effective government, McChrystal said.

"I think it was a failure because obviously things didn't go in the way we wanted," he says. "At the same time, I would say that Afghanistan changed a lot from 2001 to 2021, so I don't think those who served there — either military or civilians or media — should take anything except a sense of pride."

"But because it didn't come out the way we want, we've got to spend some time thinking about it," adds McChrystal, who recently co-authored a book entitled, "Risk: A User's Guide." "We have to learn from that."

The remarks come as Afghanistan teeters on the brink of humanitarian crisis, facing a government transition and the loss of foreign financial backers. An emergency Group of 20 summit on Tuesday brought a $1.15 billion aid package from the European Union. 

McChrystal joins other former high-ranking U.S. military officials who've recently acknowledged U.S. defeat in Afghanistan. Karl Eikenberry, a commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, told CNN last month that the results achieved in Afghanistan were "not worth the cost."

The U.S. ended the 20-year war in August, after a chaotic evacuation of U.S. troops and allies, marked by a terrorist attack that killed 13 service members and nearly 200 Afghan civilians. In all, 2,448 U.S. military personnel, 66,000 Afghan military and police, and 47,245 Afghan civilians died during the conflict, the Associate Press reported

In an address in August, President Joe Biden described the evacuation from Kabul as an "extraordinary success," and defended his decision to end the war as a milestone in the nation's shift away from military efforts to "remake other countries." 

U.S. servicemen sit after boarding a transport plane before leaving for Afghanistan at the U.S. transit center at Manas airport near Bishkek, March 27, 2012.  REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov  (KYRGYZSTAN - Tags: MILITARY TRANSPORT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR BEST QUALITY IMAGE ALSO SEE: GM1E8BD1HEV01
U.S. servicemen sit after boarding a transport plane before leaving for Afghanistan at the U.S. transit center at Manas airport near Bishkek, March 27, 2012. REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov

McChrystal, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1976, served a 34-year military career that included a stint as the commander of U.S. special forces and ultimately, a two-year tenure as the head of coalition forces in Afghanistan that ended in 2010.

Then-president Barack Obama accepted McChrystal's resignation days after a Rolling Stone article in which McChrystal and aides criticized senior administration officials.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, McChrystal rejected criticism of the Afghanistan War as doomed to failure from the start. But he acknowledged the challenge of establishing security and democratic government in the far-away country.

"I think that the mission was doable," he says. "There is a certain narrative that people say it was impossible, it was a graveyard of empires. I don't agree with that." 

"We tried to create security but we also tried to bring forward governance, and that really struggled," he says. "There's no getting around it." 

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