Exclusive Excerpt: The Operators by Michael Hastings

Page 3 of 4

Check back again with Ocean 11: Come on, Air Force, have some balls, take off.

McChrystal wasn’t the only one stranded. The German defense minister was trapped in Uzbekistan. The German chancellor was stuck in Italy. McChrystal might have to cancel the entire trip to Berlin.

I was stuck, too. Even if McChrystal could get Ocean 11 to take off, I wouldn’t be able to get on the military flight. I could spend another night in Paris, but then I’d risk getting left behind if they finally got clear­ance. I decided to gamble: Take a train to Berlin to get ahead of them.

I was at the Gare de l’Est at five thirty a.m. There was travel chaos across the continent. Riotous lines of stranded tourists at the Air France office stretched down the block. Rental car agencies ran out of stock. Taxi drivers were price-gouging, charging thousands of euros for cross-country trips. Trains were somewhat fucked as well, their websites overloaded as everyone scrambled to snag the few remaining tickets.

With no way to book a ticket online, I waited for three hours at the station. The only ticket available was an overnight train in coach. I bought it, checked out of my shitty hotel, then went back to the Westminster.

I spent the day hanging out in the Westminster lobby, doing inter­views with other members of the staff. At around three p.m., McChrystal came downstairs. He took a seat across from me at The Duke’s Bar. He checked his BlackBerry.
"Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke,” he said.

“Did you read it?” Charlie asked.

“I don’t even want to open it,” McChrystal said.

“Make sure you don’t get any of that on your leg,” Charlie said, pretend­ing to wipe his pants as if the mail had popped open and splattered him.

I jotted down notes—Holbrooke, the legendary statesman. Another civilian they couldn’t stand.

The team was going out to grab an early dinner at a Mexican restau­rant, about a ten-minute walk from the hotel. They asked me if I wanted to go with them. I said okay. I could only stay for an hour or so. My train was leaving that evening. The entire crew fell out of the hotel, and we started to walk.

We went down the street and stopped in front of the Paris Opera House.

“Hey, we should get a picture of this,” McChrystal said.

“I’ll take it,” I said.

McChrystal, Flynn, Dave, Duncan, the other officers and staff posed with their wives. I took a few steps back, clicked lightly on the button to focus it, then snapped a photo of them. Just another group of tourists in Paris.

We started walking again, and Duncan told me that it would be a good time for another interview with McChrystal and Mike Flynn.

“Once we’re back in Kabul there won’t be much time,” he said.

We sat outside at the Mexican restaurant. The waiter pushed two plas­tic tables together, and the half-dozen members of Team McChrystal and their wives grabbed seats. I sat between McChrystal and Mike Flynn. Jake sat next to McChrystal, at the end of the first table.

I started to interview McChrystal. The rest of the table started talk­ing about an incident on Saturday night: a naked man in a window at a restaurant.

“There was a guy with no clothes on, and everyone was looking up at him,” said General Flynn’s wife, Lori.

“He was really naked, leaning against the window,” Jake said, shaking his head.

The waiter came over to take our order.

“Start with Jake,” Lori said.

“Beer,” Jake said. “Grande.”

“Grande beer,” Annie said, laughing.

“You can’t have two until you have one,” Jake said.

Annie and Jackie ordered sauvignon blanc.

“I’ll take a large beer,” said Mike Flynn.

“That’s Mike’s French,” McChrystal said. “Large beer.”

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