WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday accepted the resignation of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the commander of the war in Afghanistan.
“It is the right thing for our mission in Afghanistan, for our military and for our country,” Obama said in the White House Rose Garden.
The president turned to Army Gen. David Petraeus to command the war. Petraeus, who led the Iraq war in 2007 and 2008, is now the head of the U.S. Central Command, which handles military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan.
Obama stressed that the change of command didn't mean a change in policy, noting that Petraeus was a supporter of the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal recommended and the president adopted last year.
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Obama had met earlier Wednesday in the Oval Office with the 55-year-old McChrystal, who'd been ordered back to Washington after release of a magazine article in which the general and his aides ridiculed many members of the Obama administration’s war council, including Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Adviser James Jones and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
McChrystal met first with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, then began his meeting with the president at 9:51 a.m. About 30 minutes later, the general left the White House.
Obama said that McChrystal's behavior as reported in the magazine didn't meet the standard required of a military officer and that it threatened to undermine the bedrock constitutional principle of military deference to civilian command.
McChrystal had been scheduled to participate in person in a midday meeting on Afghanistan-Pakistan policy with the president and top administration officials, including some of those whom he and his staff had insulted. As that closed-door meeting started, White House aides wouldn’t say whether the general would be in the room after all. He usually participates in the weekly meeting by video teleconference.
The mood among McChrystal's supporters at the Pentagon was despondent when he walked out of the White House, especially given the relatively short length of his meeting with Obama. Some began questioning whether the military can succeed in Afghanistan without McChrystal. Many military leaders were convinced that the general is irreplaceable and one of the armed forces' best counterinsurgency experts.
"We are screwed," one military officer, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the highly sensitive nature of the developments, said as he watched images of McChrystal leaving the White House. "We are so screwed.”
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