Obama ousts McChrystal, Petraeus to take over

This Oct. 2, 2009 file photo provided by the White House, shows President Barack Obama meeting with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, aboard Air Force One in Copenhagen, Denmark.

/ AP Photo

WASHINGTON (AP) " President Barack Obama says he has accepted the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal with regret, but is certain that it is the right decision for the country's national security and the future of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

Speaking in the Rose Garden, Obama says McChrystal's biting comments about the president and his aides in a magazine article did not meet the standards of conduct for a commanding general.

Obama named Gen. David Petraeus to assume McChrystal's role as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. He says the move will allow the U.S. to maintain leadership and momentum in the war.

Obama made the announcement following a private meeting with McChrystal and a separate meeting of his national security staff.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) " President Barack Obama ousted Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan on Wednesday, choosing the embattled general's direct boss " Gen. David Petraeus " to take over the troubled 9-year-old war, a source told The Associated Press.

McChrystal was summoned to Washington from Kabul to explain scathing, mocking remarks about administration officials, including Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, by him and his team in a magazine article. But the morning showdown with Obama in the Oval Office was not enough to save his job.

McChrystal offered his resignation and Obama accepted it, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the president's decision was not yet made public.

Obama planned to speak at 1:30 p.m. EDT from the Rose Garden, accompanied by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about the controversy.

Petraeus, who attended a formal Afghanistan war meeting at the White House Wednesday, now oversees the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq as head of U.S. Central Command.

By pairing the decision on McChrystal's departure with the name of his replacement, Obama is seeking to move on as quickly as possible from the firestorm surrounding the Rolling Stone magazine story and the renewed debate over his Afghanistan policy that it provoked.

With Washington abuzz about this controversy, there was an almost complete lockdown on information about the morning's developments. It was not even known where McChrystal went after his half-hour meeting with Obama at the White House, which came not long after his early morning arrival from Afghanistan.

Petraeus is the nation's best-known military man, having risen to prominence as the commander who turned around the Iraq war in 2007. The Afghanistan job is actually a step down from his current post.

Petraeus has a reputation for rigorous discipline and careful attention to his image. He keeps a punishing pace " spending more than 300 days on the road last year.

Petraeus briefly collapsed during Senate testimony last week, apparently from dehydration. It was a rare glimpse of weakness for a man known as among the military's most driven.

He is also among the brightest, and rose to command through a mix of brains and now has been adapted for Afghanistan.

Petraeus has repeatedly denied that he plans to run for president in 2012, and is said to want only one job: chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff.

In the hearing last week, Petraeus told Congress he would recommend delaying the pullout of U.S. forces from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011 if need be, saying security and political conditions in Afghanistan must be ready to handle a U.S. drawdown.

That does not mean Petraeus is opposed to bringing some troops home, and he said repeatedly that he supports the new Afghanistan strategy that Obama announced in December. Petraeus' caution is rooted in the fact that the uniformed military " and counterinsurgency specialists in particular " have always been uncomfortable with fixed parameters.

Not everyone wants McChrystal out

One military analyst is arguing against firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal for his comments in Rolling Stone.

Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution says he knows McChrystal very well and can't for the life of him figure out why McChrystal would let Rolling Stone get such access to him and his inner circle. But it happened, and O'Hanlon says the Obama administration will now have its say.

He says he thinks it's the White House's prerogative to ask fundamental questions.

But O'Hanlon says the president should stop short of relieving McChrystal of his command, because it would be a big setback to the war movement.

O'Hanlon says he doesn't see how the U.S. would get through the war's most crucial part without McChrystal's expertise.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Read earlier story below.

(AP) -- A furious President Barack Obama weighed whether to fire his Afghan war commander at a perilous time in the conflict as he summoned Gen. Stanley McChrystal to Washington to explain disparaging comments about his political masters.

McChrystal's complaints about his commander in chief and Obama's aides put his job in jeopardy. Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday "the magnitude and greatness of the mistake here are profound" and repeatedly declined to say McChrystal's job was safe. "All options are on the table," he said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the commander's comments in Rolling Stone magazine were "distractions" to the war in Afghanistan.

McChrystal publicly apologized Tuesday for using "poor judgment" in interviews for the magazine. He then left Afghanistan to appear, as ordered by Obama, at the White House on Wednesday.

He'll be expected to explain his comments to the president and Pentagon officials who, as Gibbs put it, want "to see what in the world he was thinking." The presidential spokesman said Obama acknowledged McChrystal's apology and believed he deserved a chance to explain himself.

However, military leaders rarely challenge their commander in chief publicly and when they do, consequences tend to go beyond a scolding. And Gibbs left little doubt that a firing was probably in the offing. "Our efforts in Afghanistan are bigger than one person," he told reporters several times.

A decision on McChrystal's future will be announced by the White House after Wednesday's meeting, Gibbs said.

Obama appointed McChrystal to lead the Afghan war in May 2009. Despite a continuing troop buildup, progress has been halting, with U.S. casualties rising, public support waning and tensions growing between Washington and Kabul.

Practically the only expression of confidence in McChrystal on Tuesday came from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who issued a statement calling the general the "best commander" of the war. Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar said Karzai hoped that Obama doesn't decide to replace him.

A top military official in Afghanistan told AP that McChrystal hasn't been told whether he will be allowed to keep his job. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions between Washington and the general's office in Kabul.

Gibbs said McChrystal had not offered his resignation, in part because he has not yet spoken to or seen Obama, who was angry when his press secretary gave him the story Monday night.

Gibbs refused to describe how angry the president was, except to say: "You would know it if you saw it."

McChrystal spent Tuesday calling several others mentioned in the article to apologize, officials said, including Gates and Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy to Pakistan.

Gates issued a statement saying McChrystal made "a significant mistake" and used poor judgment in his remarks to a magazine reporter.

"We are fighting a war against al-Qaida and its extremist allies, who directly threaten the United States, Afghanistan, and our friends and allies around the world," Gates said. "Going forward, we must pursue this mission with a unity of purpose. Our troops and coalition partners are making extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our security, and our singular focus must be on supporting them and succeeding in Afghanistan without such distractions."

Holbrooke's office said in a terse two-line statement that McChrystal had called him in Kabul "to apologize for this story and accept full responsibility for it." It said Holbrooke "values his close and productive relationship with General McChrystal."

A spokesman said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen told McChrystal of his "deep disappointment" over the article.

In the article, McChrystal complains that Obama handed him "an unsellable position" on the war, back when the commander was pressing for more troops than the administration was then prepared to send. "I found that time painful," he said.

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 the reliability of Afghan President Hamid Karzai only to give himself cover in case the U.S. effort failed.

"Here's one that covers his flank for the history books," McChrystal told the magazine. "Now, if we fail, they can say 'I told you so.'"

In Kabul on Tuesday, McChrystal issued a statement saying: "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."

"I extend my sincerest apology for this profile," the statement said. "It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened."

Mullen talked with McChrystal about the article Monday night, Capt. John Kirby, Mullen's spokesman said. In a 10-minute conversation, the chairman "expressed his deep disappointment in the piece and the comments" in it, Kirby said.

The Wednesday meeting at the White House was one of Obama's regular sessions on the Afghanistan war, which McChrystal and others in Afghanistan usually attend via videoconference. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Gates are among those who regularly attend the Situation Room meetings in person.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for all involved to "stay cool and calm" and not the let situation interfere with the mission in Afghanistan.

He said he had "enormous respect" for the general and had spoken to McChrystal on Tuesday morning and "emphasized to him that I think, obviously, those are comments that he is going to have to deal with with respect to the commander in chief, the vice president and his national security staff."


Associated Press Writers Julie Pace, Pauline Jelinek and Matthew Lee in Washington, and Deb Riechmann in Kabul contributed to this report. Gearan is AP National Security Writer and Loven is AP White House Correspondent.

Read more: Is Gen. Stanley McChrystal someone the president can afford to fire? (Wash. Post)General McChrystal's gaffe gets shrugs on front lines (CS Monitor)McChrystal Gets Strong Endorsement From Karzai (WSJ)