Petraeus takes over for ousted McChrystal in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama relieved Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of the U.S. and NATO war effort in Afghanistan on Wednesday, replacing him with Gen. David Petraeus, the architect of the turnaround in Iraq.
The dramatic Rose Garden announcement came less than 48 hours after Rolling Stone published a stunning profile of McChrystal in which he and his aides were quoted making disparaging comments about top Obama administration officials.
Obama said his decision to replace McChrystal was difficult and not based on policy differences or a “personal insult.”
“But war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private a general or a president, and as difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe it is the right decision for our national security,” Obama said.
Obama said he was particularly troubled by the disrespect displayed in the article.
“The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general,” he said. “It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that is necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.”
McChrystal issued a statement on Wednesday announcing his resignation.
“I strongly support the President’s strategy in Afghanistan and am deeply committed to our coalition forces, our partner nations, and the Afghan people,” McChrystal said. “It was out of respect for this commitment — and a desire to see the mission succeed — that I tendered my resignation.
“It has been my privilege and honor to lead our nation’s finest.”
Obama summoned McChrystal to the White House for a one-on-one meeting earlier Wednesday, and McChrystal was seen leaving shortly before the president convened a meeting of his war council.
Petraeus is currently head of U.S. Central Command. Obama urged the Senate to confirm him in his new position as quickly as possible.
Petraeus helped write the Army’s field manual on counterinsurgency and then became commander of U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq during the surge in 2007 and 2008.
He is credited with changing the U.S. strategy in Iraq from transferring security to Iraqi troops and police as quickly as possible to protecting the Iraqi population. That approach called for troops to leave their heavily fortified bases and live at smaller outposts closer to Iraqi population centers.
The change in direction, combined with efforts to peel off disenchanted Sunnis from the insurgency and incorporate them into neighborhood watch groups under the “Sons of Iraq” umbrella, led to relative stability by the time Petraeus left Iraq.
At Strongpoint Belanday, a small outpost about six miles southwest of Kandahar, troops with 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment called Petraeus’ selection a smart choice.
“I understand that if you win the population, you win the hearts and minds and you stop terrorism,” said Cpl. Brian Baumgardner, 24, as he took a break from working out. “But our influence is limited. We’re not out there in the villages 24/7 ...
“I think McChrystal’s approach was a good approach, but it was too soft,” he added. “We were all under [Petraeus’] command in Iraq, and the job got completed.”
But Staff Sgt. Sterlin Richardson, 31, of Brooklyn, N.Y., said he believes there will be little change in focus for U.S. forces.
“Personally, I think either way, the mission is going to stay the same,” said Richardson, a 12-year veteran. “Logically, if a plan is in place and working, it makes little sense to change it. A lot of people, although they didn’t like [McChrystal’s approach], understood that it’s working. I think it’s going to be too much to change.”
In the Rolling Stone story, McChrystal said he felt betrayed when a cable was leaked to the press in which the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan urged that no more troops be sent there.
The most disrespectful comments come from several unnamed McChrystal aides, who nicknamed Vice President Joe Biden “Bite Me” and called National Security Advisor James Jones a “clown” who remains “stuck in 1985.”
One aide describes McChrystal’s strained relationship with Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“The Boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” the unidentified aide said. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”
Before returning to Washingotn, McChrystal issued a prompt apology over the article.
“I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war, and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome,” he said in a statement.
McChrystal has had a rocky relationship with the White House since he took command of U.S. and NATO forces after the Pentagon fired the previous commander, Gen. David McKiernan.
McChrystal was suspected in playing a role in last year’s leak of his assessment of the Afghanistan war, in which he said he needed more troops to avoid defeat.
He was also summoned to Air Force One to be chewed out by Obama last fall after ridiculing Biden’s idea of relying more on special operations forces and unmanned aircraft to kill terrorists, saying it would lead to “Chaos-istan.” email@example.com