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Obama ousts McChrystal, replaces him with Petraeus

White House officials determine that published comments made by Gen. McChrystal and his staff amount to insubordination. Obama then appoints Gen. David Petraeus to replace him as top commander in Afghanistan.

June 23, 2010|By Julian E. Barnes, Christi Parsons and Peter Nicholas | Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — President Obama ousted his top commander in Afghanistan on Wednesday after officials determined that comments he and his staff made in a Rolling Stone magazine article amounted to insubordination, a White House official said.

Obama accepted Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's resignation and, in an equally stunning move, has appointed Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who once led U.S. forces in Iraq, as his successor.

Officials concluded that keeping McChrystal in his job was not viable after he and his staff were quoted making comments that disparaged U.S. civilian leaders who oversee the war effort.

The remarks in Rolling Stone angered the White House and deeply displeased top Defense officials, who have insisted repeatedly that military officers must respect civilian leadership and keep their advice and views private. McChrystal crafted the counterinsurgency plan adopted by Obama that entailed a sharp increase in troops and a shift in strategy to emphasize the protection of the Afghan public and improving the Afghan government's performance.

But some officials in the administration, most notably Vice President Joe Biden, have advocated different approaches, preferring a strategy that requires fewer troops while emphasizing the elimination of militant leaders and ensuring that Afghanistan does not fall under insurgent control.

McChrystal has served as top commander for only a year, replacing Gen. David McKiernan, who was fired by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

By ousting his Afghanistan commander for insubordination, the clash between Obama and McChrystal becomes the most high profile firing since 1951, when President Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was leading international forces in the Korean War.

In 2008, Adm. William J. Fallon was forced to resign as head of Central Command for comments he made in an Esquire magazine article which were interpreted as disrespecting the Bush administration's policies in the Middle East.

Because McChrystal has direct control of forces in Afghanistan at a crucial time in war, his removal is seen as more significant.

Any military leader who steps in now to replace him faces a struggle to mark progress according to the strict timeline laid out by the White House. A planned U.S. troop reduction is scheduled to begin in little more than a year.

But the war is widely perceived as going badly. The military has struggled to create a viable local government following an offensive in the southern Afghanistan village of Marja. And the timeline for the next offensive in Kandahar has been prolonged because of skepticism from local officials.

julian.barnes@latimes.com cparsons@latimes.com

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