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Obama relieves McChrystal of Afghan command

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 23 June 2010

Barack Obama relieves his top general in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal after his critical comments in Rolling Stone magazine, replacing him with General Petraeus. Retired US army general Barry McCaffrey tells Channel 4 News McChrystal's effectiveness was "significantly impaired".

General Stanley McChrystal arrives at the White House (credit: Reuters)

In a 10 minute statement during which he took no questions, Obama said:

"Today I accepted General Stanley McChrystal's resignation as commander of the ISAF force in Afghanistan.

"I did so with considerable regret but also with certainty that it is the right thing for our mission."

"I'm also pleased to nominate General David Petraeus to take command in Afghanistan which will allow us to maintain the momentum and leadership that we need to succeed."

Obama stressed that this was a "change of personell not policy" and that nothing would change with their strategy in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan and the McChrystal row: Obama’s political anvil
For President Obama, Afghanistan began as a choice of what was morally or practically right and is fast becoming a case of what is politically expedient, writes Asia Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh.

A longer and messier war is not what any Democrat incumbent would choose to get into, but at the same time, no US president could get out of Kabul without facing accusations he'd let go of the frontline in the war on terror.

With General McChrystal's recent bumbling, that choice between the politically and practically expedient will again come to the fore. It is politically expedient to fire McChrystal immediately: putting the personal sniping aside, the special forces veteran has clearly expressed in his Rolling Stone profile a clear vote of no confidence in most of Obama's national security team and appeared to doubt the commitment and understanding of the commander in chief himself.

Practically, however, firing McChrystal would be tantamount to accepting defeat in Afghanistan. America knows that Afghan President Karzai is a spent force and an unsuitable partner for their grand schemes, but the short timetable they're on means they put up with his alleged corruption and the rigging of an election, and just played the hand they have. They had no choice.

Read the article in full…

The president said the reasons for taking command from the general was not because he was insulted, but because be broke the "code of conduct". Saying that war was bigger than any one man and that the decision to replace him was the right reason for national security.

"The conducted 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. It erodes the trust that is necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan."

Retired General Barry McCaffrey interview

Retired US army general Barry McCaffrey, who is a former assistant chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Channel 4 News:

"I think his effectiveness was so significantly impaired, his ability to deal with the White House, with our inner agency process and indeed with our allies - never mind our own US Embassy or Senator McCain or Kerry, or the French.

"McChrystal is one of our best fighters, absolutely a man of tremendous integrity and personal courage, but he was impaired and I think this was a good outcome.

"Now replacing him with David Petreaus is extremely reassuring to all of us who see Nato's future being on the line."

General McChrystal issued the following statement after Obama's spoke to the press, saying it he had quit out of respect for Obama's strategy:

"This morning the President accepted my resignation as Commander of U.S. and NATO Coalition Forces in Afghanistan.

"I strongly support the President’s strategy in Afghanistan and am deeply committed to our coalition forces, our partner nations, and the Afghan people.

"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 [sic] to lead our nation’s finest."

General Stanley McChrystal: Career highlights
 - 1976-78
Weapons Platoon Leader, C Company, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
 - 1978 81, Rifle PlatoonLeader, Executive Officer and the Commander of Detachment A, A Company, 1st   Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North XCarolina.
 - 1981-82 United Nations Command Support, Joint Group Security Area, Korea 1990-93 Operations Desert Shield/Storm, Saudi Arabia
 - 2000-01 Assistant Division Commander, Combined Joint Task Force Kuwait, Camp Doha, Kuwait
 - 2001-02 Chief of Staff, Combined Joint Task Force180, Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan
 - 2002 – 03 Vice Director for Operations, the Joint Staff, Washington DC
 - 2003 - 06 Commanding General Joint Special Operations, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
 - 2006 – 08 Commander, Joint Special Operations, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
 - 2008 – 09 Director, the Joint Staff, Washington DC
 - 2009 -10 Commander, International Security Assistance Force/Commander, United States Forces, Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan.

Earlier McChrystal was called to meet Obama at the White House after his comments angered the White House.

General McChrystal was summoned to explain remarks he and his aides made in a magazine article that disparaged Obama and other senior civilian leaders, held a private, 30-minute session with the president in the Oval Office before getting into a car and leaving the White House.

McChrystal is considered the architect of the current strategy in Afghanistan.

McChrystal on the role of President Karzai 
McChrystal has been able to build a strong relationship with the Afghan President. In April this year in an interview with Channel 4 News the US Commander told Asia correspondent Nick Paton Walsh that Karzai was being allowed a greater role in NATO's military planning, referring to him as "the commander in chief of operations in this country".

McChrystal said the president would have a large say in future operations and in the planning of the forthcoming offensive to retake the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, although he stopped short of accepting the president could veto the offensive.

He said Karzai "understands the requirement to improve security around Kandahar so he will have a huge say on providing guidance on how we shape that security."

He added: "I don't think a veto's even is something we're talking about. He has told people of Kandahar that they will be included in the decision making process and shaping this and I think it is appropriate."

General McChrystal spoke to Channel 4 News in April, click here for the full interview

Aides had said Obama was furious about the Rolling Stone - saying he wanted to speak to McChrystal directly about it.

"I think it's clear that the article in which he and his team appeared showed poor judgment," Obama told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.

Earlier McChristal had apologised saying:

"It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened."

In the article entitled "The Runaway General" McChrystal himself makes belittling remarks about Vice President Joe Biden and the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke.

His aides are quoted as calling one top Obama official a "clown" and another a "wounded animal" and saying the president appeared intimidated at his first meeting with McChrystal.

Channel 4 News blogs on Afghanisatn
- Nick Paton Walsh: Afghanistan and the McChrystal row 
- Alex Thomson: 300th soldier's death is tragic, but what about the Afghans?
Jon Snow: Petraeus - he's running but for what?
- Taking control of a military drone, half a world away
- New role for British troops in Afghanistan 
- PowerPointing the way to Afghan vistory
- Nato target the Taliban and strengthen their hand

The British Afghan offensive

It must not be forgotten that McChrystal, and now Petraeus are also in command of British troops fighting in Afghanistan.

But the recent Allied offensive in southern Afghanistan has sharply accelerated the death toll - today the fourth Royal Marine from 40 Commando was killed in as many days.

One of the British regiments worst hit has been the 11 Light Brigade - which has seen 64 soldiers killed in the last six months. Today thousands of people turned out in Winchester to welcome them home.

650 soldiers, accompanied by three military bands, marched through the town - before a special thanksgiving service at Winchester Cathedral.

The Duchess of Cornwall told them they were 'all heroes' and paid tribute to their spirit and courage.

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