McChyrstal Relieved, Petraeus To Take Over as U.S. Commander in Afghanistan

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has been relieved of his command as head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. He will be replaced by Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command.

Speaking in the Rose Garden, President Barack Obama said he had accepted the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal "with considerable regret, but also with certainty that it is the right thing for our mission in Afghanistan."

He nominated Gen. David Petraeus to take over command of the mission in Afghanistan.

The statement came following the face-to-face meeting between Obama and McChrystal earlier this morning that lasted less than 30 minutes. The general had been summoned to the White House after a profile of McChrystal, "The Runaway General" in Rolling Stone magazine, was pre-released on Monday. Freelance reporter for the magazine David Hastings had quoted McChrystal making negative remarks about his civilian counterparts in the region, including Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry. He and his staff also made derisive comments about Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as top officials in the Obama administration.

McChrystal left the White House directly after his Oval Office briefing with Obama, without taking part in a strategy conference with the National Security Team in the Situation Room. Obama went into the Situation Room meeting without announcing whether McChrystal would lose his job over the article.

Speaking to the press, Obama said he was "sad to lose" the general, and that the decision was not made due to personal insult, nor did he and McChrystal differ in their opinions on the strategy of the mission in Afghanistan.

"But war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general or a president," Obama said. "As difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe it is the right decision for our national security. The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust necessary to the team to work together to achieve the objective in Afghanistan."

Obama instated McChrystal only last year as head of the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan.

The article in Rolling Stone depicts McChrystal as disappointed over Obama's delay on implementing the counterinsurgency strategy proposed by McChrystal and the Pentagon and at odds with the civilian mission leaders, including Eikenberry and Holbrooke.

The counterinsurgency strategy called for sending huge numbers of ground troops to abate the enemy and military and civilian support to rebuild the nation. McChrystal was called on the carpet last year by Obama for leaking a strategy paper to the press, in which the general said the mission in Afghanistan would fail if the government didn't send in 40,000 troops. The Obama administration reviewed the paper for three months; in the article, McChyrstal called that time "painful."

Officials in Afghanistan had rallied around McChrystal on Tuesday, saying he had increased cooperation between Afghan and international troops, worked to reduce civilian casualties and gained the trust of the Afghan people. Afghan President Hamid Karzai had expressed his confidence in the top NATO commander in Afghanistan to Obama in a video conference, Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar told the Associated Press.

"The president believes that we are in a very sensitive juncture in the partnership, in the war on terror and in the process of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan, and any gap in this process will not be helpful," Omar told reporters.

The flap over McChrystal comes as NATO and Afghan forces are ramping up security in and around the key southern city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.

Obama said that he had spoken with Petraeus and would ask the Senate to confirm him for his new assignment as commander of the Afghanistan mission as quickly as possible. In the interim, British Lieutenant General Nick Parker has assumed command.

"This is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy," Obama said. "General Petraeus was part of review last fall, and he supported and helped design the strategy we have in place."

Meanwhile, 76 NATO troops have been killed this month in Afghanistan--making June the deadliest month for U.S. and international forces in the almost 9-year war's history.

Read more WQXR coverage of this story here .

 

6/23/10 at 6:00 PM: THIS STORY WAS UPDATED TO INCLUDE INFORMATION THAT 76 NATO TROOPS HAVE BEEN KILLED THIS MONTH, AND THAT LIEUTENANT GENERAL NICK PARKER HAS ASSUMED COMMAND.

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