The raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan took extraordinary courage not only from the service members who carried it out, but from the "decision makers" behind the operation, the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Monday.
"Think of what would have happened if the mission had not been successful, and all of the second-guessing that would have happened," Ret. Gen. Stanley McChrystal told a meeting of the American Iron and Steel Institute in Colorado Springs.
"This mission sends a message about our will to stand up for what is right."
McChrystal was removed last summer as U.S. commander in Afghanistan after a Rolling Stone magazine profile anonymously quoted people around him criticizing members of President Barack Obama's national security team. A Pentagon inquiry cleared McChrystal of wrongdoing last month. The magazine has said it stands by its story.
McChrystal said Bin Laden's death shows al-Qaida is vulnerable, but he added parts of al-Qaida will use the raid as a "cause to go after something."
He also warned against the "temptation to think who is next to kill."
"You can't kill everybody, and it becomes a never-ending" cycle of retaliation, he said in remarks reported by The Gazette of Colorado Springs.
McChrystal emphasized he was not aware of any details of the raid. He did describe the extensive planning needed for similar operations.
"You pull together a story on what the target needs to live, the security and privacy needs, and use that in your planning. In this case, it took almost a decade to put it all together," McChrystal said.
McChrystal was the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan from June 2009 to June 2010.
He was dismissed after Rolling Stone quoted people around McChrystal making disparaging remarks about Vice President Joe Biden and other national security team members.
At the time, Obama said the general's conduct "undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system." He also said it eroded the trust needed "for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan."
The Defense Department inspector general's report, however, found that McChrystal did not violate any applicable legal or ethical standard.
McChrystal was replaced by Gen. David Petraeus. The White House last month tapped McChrystal to lead an advisory board to support military families.