Gen. David Petraeus to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of forces in Afghanistan
Washington - President Barack Obama has decided to relieve Gen. Stanley McChrystal of his command over all U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, after the top commander made controversial comments in a magazine article.
Obama said he made the decision to accept McChrystal's resignation "with considerable regret," but called it the right step. "I don't make this decision based on any sense of personal insult."
The president said he has chosen Gen. David Petraeus to replace McChrystal as top Afghan commander. Petraeus now oversees the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Obama said McChrystal's magazine comments undermined civilian control of the U.S. military.
Earlier, McChrystal was seen leaving the West Wing and climbing into a van after his nearly half-hour private showdown with the president.
Summoned to Washington to explain himself, McChrystal arrived from Kabul in the early morning and met first at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. After his next face-to-face, with Obama, the general was not seen returning to the White House for a scheduled Afghanistan strategy session, as had been expected. It was not known where he went, as he did not appear at his Pentagon office, either.
Even before their showdown, the White House's rebuke of the general suggested it would be hard for him to save his job.
Before facing the president, McChrystal met with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen at the Pentagon.
Extraordinary challenge to White House
In a Rolling Stone magazine article, McChrystal didn't criticize Obama himself but called the period last fall when the president was deciding whether to approve more troops "painful" and said Obama appeared ready to hand him an "unsellable" position.
McChrystal also said he was "betrayed" by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, the man the White House chose to be his diplomatic partner in Afghanistan. He accused Eikenberry of raising doubts about Karzai only to give himself cover in case the U.S. effort failed. "Now, if we fail, they can say 'I told you so,'" McChrystal told the magazine. And he was quoted mocking Vice President Joe Biden.
If not insubordination, the remarks — as well as even sharper commentary about Obama and his White House from several in McChrystal's inner circle — were at least an indirect and extraordinary challenge and one that consumed Washington on Tuesday. The capital hasn't seen a similar public contretemps between a president and a top wartime commander since Harry Truman stripped Gen. Douglas MacArthur of his command more than a half-century ago after disagreements over Korean War strategy.
Notably, neither McChrystal nor his team questioned the accuracy of the story or the quotes in it. McChrystal issued an apology.
Remarkably revealing reaction
Military leaders rarely challenge their commanders in chief publicly. When they do, consequences tend to be more severe than a scolding.
Indeed, the presidential spokesman's prepared reaction to the article was remarkably revealing, even for the normally coded language of Washington. Press secretary Robert Gibbs repeatedly declined to say McChrystal's job was safe, and questioned whether McChrystal is "capable and mature enough" to lead the war.
"Our efforts in Afghanistan are bigger than one person," Gibbs told reporters, a formulation typically used when one person is about to leave.
Gates, for his part, said in a statement Tuesday that McChrystal had made "a significant mistake."
Obama raised the issue of McChrystal's future in a phone call with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday night, Cameron's office said Wednesday without disclosing what was said. Britain has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, the largest international force after the United States.
History of making waves
McChrystal was viewed as a visionary with the guts and smarts to turn around the beleaguered, 8-year-old Afghanistan war when he was chosen to take over last year.
But despite his military achievements, he has a history of making waves. This is not his first brush with Obama's anger. Last fall, the president scolded McChrystal for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops.
Wisconsin Democratic Rep. David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, called for McChrystal to resign. Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was among three prominent Republican senators to criticize the general and say a decision about his future should rest with Obama.
Several names circulated among Pentagon and Capitol Hill aides as potential successors, including Gen. James Mattis, Joint Forces Command chief; Lt. Gen. John Allen, the No. 2 at U.S. Central Command; Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, McChrystal's No. 2 in Afghanistan; Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Command; and Adm. James Stavridis, the top NATO commander in Europe.
Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the White House meeting, said the administration had not reached out to possible successors but might do so Wednesday.