NEW YORK -- Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal said Monday he backs the White House's drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan slated for 2014, but added that the U.S. owes Afghans some sort of enduring security presence to support them.
"We have an emotional responsibility," McChrystal said of Afghanistan in an interview with The Associated Press. He commanded forces there before resigning over a controversial magazine article.
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"We created expectations after 2001 in people" that the U.S. would be there to keep the country from sliding back into the chaos of the Taliban years, McChrystal said.
His comments come ahead of a visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to the White House, as the two nations try to craft a long-term plan for Afghanistan that will include a U.S. military presence whose size and scope have not yet been decided. The Afghan war commander, Gen. John Allen, has offered White House planners a range of troop numbers to choose from, from 6,000 troops, who would be devoted mostly to hunting al-Qaida, to more than 15,000, enough to continue much of the U.S. training mission and also back Afghan troops in the field with intelligence and logistical support.
McChrystal said Afghans don't want an occupying army, but they fear the U.S. will withdraw completely.
"Like a teenager, you really don't want your parents hanging around you, but...you like to know if things go bad, they're going to help," he said. McChrystal added that the Afghans are not children, but they need to know they can trust America.
The general gave interviews upon the release of his memoir, "My Share of the Task," published by Portfolio/Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Group USA. The book outlines his time from commanding the top military counterterrorism unit, the Joint Special Operations Command, to the contentious process of crafting the Afghan war strategy, and ends with his abrupt resignation over an article in The Rolling Stone.
McChrystal took full responsibility for the piece, by embedded reporter Michael Hastings, which anonymously quoted members of McChrystal's staff disparaging the White House over war policy. He would not confirm whether the article's quotes were accurate, saying only that he "cheerfully" offered President Barack Obama his resignation, as the article had created a perception of a rift that would hurt the war mission.
But his eyes watered at the memory of telling his wife, Annie, that his 34-year Army career was at an end.
"Annie said, Good. We've always been happy, we'll always be happy, and we have been, every day since," he said.
First Lady Michelle Obama later asked McChrystal to work on Joining Forces, the White House initiative for military troops and their families. He said he'd spoken to the president at several Joining Forces event, but had never again discussed the resignation with him.
Part of the friction between McChrystals's staff and the White House was over McChrystal's request for an extra 40,000 troops, which Obama chose over a proposal by Vice President Joe Biden to limit the mission to a small number of counterterrorism forces and trainers.
The retired general insisted the strategy known as counterinsurgency worked, saying the Afghans are much better able to stand on their own.
"If you had tried to bring big American forces in and do search and destroy, or do just raids, it would have been pointless. The Afghan people needed to buy into this," he said. "They needed to believe we were there to protect them...and we weren't just using Afghanistan as a place to fight our enemies."
He called the looming drawdown of U.S. forces "inevitable," and said that while Afghan troops still needed to "mature rapidly," being forced to work on their own would help.
"You are never ready to do something by yourself until you actually do it, and then you are surprised you can," he said.