Exclusive Excerpt: The Operators by Michael Hastings

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"The French might ask if you’re here for more troops, and how the French are doing," said Duncan.

"Hey, that’s too easy. I was just down in Kandahar and I saw the colonel from Task Force Lafayette – didn’t expect to see him there. I was like, 'Hello, Pierre,'" McChrystal said, grinning.

"If you’re asked about women’s rights," Duncan said.

"Women don’t have rights," McChrystal answered. The joke fell flat.

"It’s true, though," said Jake. "We shouldn’t be in there pushing our culture. It’s just going to anger the fundamentally conservative culture, like we say –”

McChrystal interrupted before Jake could go on.

"What was the Biden question we got yesterday?" McChrystal asked.

He couldn’t resist opening up the room for a few jokes at the vice president’s expense.

"Are you asking about Vice President Biden?" McChrystal said with a laugh. "Who’s that?"

"Biden?"  Jake said. "Did you say: Bite Me??"

Everyone started laughing. Jake finished off the back-and-forth with another jab at the vice president.

"Are you talking about the guy who swears on television?" Jake said.

After the meeting, I waited outside the hotel for Duncan. I noticed an Arab guy, around five-feet-five, walking by in shorts and sneakers. I continued to smoke my cigarette. Duncan and I walked to the Métro to catch a train to the École Militaire. At the top of the Métro steps, I saw the same Arab guy again.

"Hey, man, do people really spy on you guys?"

"Yes, they try," Duncan said.

 "I think I just saw a guy I’d seen earlier walking by the hotel."

 "He’s not doing a very good job then, is he?"

Duncan and I arrived at the military academy, a regally styled, sand-colored complex built by Louis XV. I took a seat at the back of the auditorium. The audience was made up of French academics, military students, and active-duty military officers. I settled in to listen to the speech McChrystal had just rehearsed.

"Afghanistan is hard," he began.


Two days later, Hastings finds himself stranded in Paris with McChrystal and his staff, courtesy of a volcanic eruption in Iceland that grounded more than 100,000 flights. Temporarily unable to return to the U.S., Hastings accepts an offer to join McChrystal and his team in Berlin, the next stop on their European tour. Over dinner the night before they leave, the general talks candidly about Gen. David Petraeus, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, and how he had consciously manipulated the media as the Pentagon’s spokesman during the Iraq War. "I couldn't quite believe how the story was playing out," Hastings writes. "I was getting the perfect material for a profile, beyond my expectations."

Chapter 15. Petraeus Can't Do Afghanistan, and We Aren't Going to Get Bin Laden
April 18, 2010, Paris

Ocean 11 wasn’t allowed to leave France. Neither was Ocean 12.

Those were the call signs for the planes the Air Force supplied McChrys­tal. Ocean 11—named after the George Clooney heist movie with a star-studded cast about a high-speed team of supercool thieves who pull off the biggest caper in Las Vegas history—was a Learjet. Ocean 12 was the plane for the staff.

McChrystal’s plan to fly to Berlin on Monday was in jeopardy.

Dave worked the contingencies. Helicopters? It would be a twelve-hour ride. They’d have to stop and refuel multiple times. It sounded bru­tal. Did they want to put their wives on a twelve-hour Blackhawk ride? Nope, bad idea. Commercial flights? Not moving yet. Train? That would take too long and they wouldn’t have communication capabilities.

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