Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal on Wednesday urged Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s critics not to “judge” him until all the facts are in and sharply defended the extensive and risky search efforts that claimed the lives of some of his fellow soldiers.
“We did a huge number of operations to try to stop the Taliban from being able to move him across the border into Pakistan,” McChrystal told Yahoo News in an exclusive interview. “And we made a great effort and put a lot of people at risk in doing that, but that’s what you should do. That’s what soldiers do for each other.”
Bergdahl’s release as part of a prisoner swap involving five Taliban commanders has drawn angry scrutiny in Congress. It has also prompted some of his former comrades in arms to paint him as a deserter unworthy of the frantic search efforts on his behalf.
McChrystal, who commanded the war effort in Afghanistan at the time of Bergdahl’s June 2009 vanishing, declined to shed any more light on the circumstances of his disappearance.
“We’re going to have to wait and talk to Sgt. Bergdahl now and get his side of the story,” he said. “One of the great things about America is we should not judge until we know the facts. And after we know the facts, then we should make a mature judgment on how we should handle it.”
Asked whether he would have made the same prisoner swap, McChrystal replied: “We don’t leave Americans behind. That’s unequivocal.”
“There will be a lot of discussion on whether the mechanism for getting Sgt. Bergdahl back was right — and I’ll leave it to people to argue that,” he added.
McChrystal spoke to Yahoo News on the battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he was due to headline a summit on national service. He has called for an ambitious public-private partnership to get Americans age 18-28 to do one year of service.
The Summit at Gettysburg: Our Unfinished Work is being hosted by the Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project, together with the National Conference on Citizenship, ServiceNation and Voices for National Service.
McChrystal was forced to resign after a 2010 Rolling Stone article featured him and his aides criticizing civilian leaders, including Vice President Joe Biden.