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Obama considers firing McChrystal over Afghan row

By Felicity Spector

Updated on 22 June 2010

The top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, faces being fired today after being summoned to the White House over controversial remarks mocking key officials. Colonel Richard Kemp tells Channel 4 News it needs to be sorted out behind closed doors.

General Stanley McChrystal (Credit: Reuters)

US television reports say the General will meet President Obama in person.

In the profile, 'The Runaway General' - due to hit the news stands on Friday - General McChrystal reportedly says that the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, had "betrayed" him - after an internal memo emerged questioning the General's request for more troops.

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

And he derides the US special envoy Richard Holbrooke - at one point, the article describes him looking at his BlackBerry and complaining "Oh no, not another email from Holbrooke", before putting the phone away without reading the message.

McChrystal goes on to joke about the Vice President Joe Biden - who's known to be sceptical about his war strategy in Afghanistan. "Are you asking about Vice-President Biden?" he asks, laughing. "Who's that?" "Biden?" an adviser quips back. "Did you say Bite Me?"

The profile also reveals tensions with the White House over the military's request for tens of thousands of extra troops, and claims the General was unimpressed with President Obama when the pair first met a year ago.

McChrystal has now extended his "sincerest apology" over the article - insisting he had "enormous respect" for the President, and adding "It was a mistake reflecting poor judgement and should never have happened." A close media advisor has already resigned, officials said.

Robert Gates, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates described the general's comments as a "significant mistake".

"I read with concern the profile piece on General Stanley McChrystal in the upcoming edition of Rolling Stone magazine. I believe that Gen. McChrystal made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment in this case," he said.

"Going forward, we must pursue this mission with a unity of purpose ... General McChrystal has apologised to me and is similarly reaching out to others named in this article to apologise to them as well. I have recalled General McChrystal to Washington to discuss this in person."

Disputes should be sorted out behind closed doors
It is entirely right that generals robustly question and challenge their political masters. Indeed Winston Churchill argued that those of his commanders who were not prepared to fight him were unlikely to effectively fight the enemy, writes Colonel Richard Kemp. 

But this should always be behind closed doors. Public criticism at this level serves only to undermine confidence. And the top Nato commander must not only command the campaign but he must also command the confidence of his subordinates, superiors and politicians across the allied nations.

More even than in a conventional war, where military gains and losses are far more tangible, confidence in the strategy and the leadership are critically important. This is particularly true of General McChrystal, who is hugely respected in the US, Nato militaries and in Afghanistan, and is so personally associated with the current strategy.

Read Colonel Richard Kemp's article here

The row comes amid growing diplomatic tension in Britain's relations with the region, following reports special envoy Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles was stepping down.

The Foreign Office said he was on extended leave and was "expected back in the autumn".

Sir Sherard has held the position since 2009, after almost two years as Britain's ambassador to Kabul. The Guardian suggested he had recently clashed with US and Nato officials over his push for a new counter-insurgency strategy - and for peace talks with the Taliban.

His decision comes a month before a critical international conference is due to be held in Kabul - expected to focus on possible talks with the insurgents, as well as international aid.

The Foreign Secretary William Hague is now reviewing the special envoy position - and officials say the government is considering whether to fill the job with someone else.

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