Stan McChrystal: Trading Shadows for Showtime

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For nearly six years during the post-9/11 war on terror — including the height of the Iraq war — Stanley McChrystal was the furthest thing from a household name.

As commander of Joint Special Operations Command (known in the military then as Task Force 714), McChrystal led a team of commandos, intelligence analysts and programmers. Their mission: to track, capture and kill hundreds of the world’s most-wanted terrorists. While some of their work – like the 2006 killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq – made headlines, McChrystal and his troops remained largely out of the public eye.

McChrystal stepped into the spotlight in the summer of 2009 when President Obama tapped him to lead the war in Afghanistan. For the U.S. and its allies, the war was at a low point. Many believed the Taliban had taken the momentum. Just as McChrystal took command, Marines and British troops launched some of the largest offensives since the war began in 2001. Over the next 12 bloody months, McChrystal developed a close relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and began implementing the 30,000 strong toop “surge” ordered by President Obama.

The following summer, McChrystal’s name exploded into the headlines for all the wrong reasons. An article in Rolling Stone quoted members of the general’s staff making disparaging comments about civilian officials, including the vice president. McChrystal flew to Washington and offered Obama his resignation. After 34 years in uniform, and nearly eight years deployed since 2001, McChrystal’s career was over.

This week, McChrystal published a new book, My Share of the Task. Part memoir, part history, it tells the story of his time in uniform and gives a detailed account of his years commanding warriors in the shadows. He chronicles their transformation from a unit that conducted a couple dozen missions a month, to one that carried out more than a dozen missions a night.

McChrystal sat down with TIME and talked about his years commanding America’s most secret troops, the controversy surrounding his resignation, his plans for the future — and why he still eats only one meal a day.