Defense Secretary Robert Gates has replaced the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, saying there was a need for "fresh thinking" and a set of "fresh eyes" to match the Obama administration's new strategy for taking on the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
ABC News' Martha Raddatz broke the story that Gates intended to replace McKiernan with Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a former special operations commander. McChrystal, the director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, is a three-star Army general but will soon be awarded a fourth star so he can take command of the war in Afghanistan.
Gates' senior military advisor, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, will also head to Afghanistan to become McChrystal's deputy. McChrystal and Rodriguez will require Senate confirmation and Gates urged Congress to move quickly with their appointments.
McChrystal has long specialized in clandestine special operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rodriguez commanded the 82nd Airborne Division during a deployment to eastern Afghanistan that saw significant security improvements after the implementation of a counterinsurgency strategy.
Announcing the move at a Pentagon news conference this afternoon, Gates said, "Today we have a new policy set by our new president. We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed."
Gates said he decided in favor of the change after consulting with Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and with Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. Central Command.
Mullen echoed Gates' rationale for the leadership change, saying, "with the new strategy, with the new team across the board, I felt it was very important for new leadership, and supported this decision completely.
"There probably is no more critical ingredient than leadership. And, again, along with all the other changes, it's time now. And that's why I made that recommendation."
At the White House, President Obama "agreed with the recommendation of the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the implementation of a new strategy in Afghanistan called for new military leadership," according to a statement. "The President was grateful for and impressed by the leadership that General McKiernan demonstrated in calling for additional resources for the fight in Afghanistan. This change of direction in Afghanistan in no way diminishes the President's deep respect for Gen. McKiernan and his decades of public service."
Petraeus said in a statement that he had "participated in the decision-making process and fully supports the secretary's decision."
McKiernan has been in place only 11 months and will not move to another assignment, Gates said, adding that "this is the right time to make the change, at a time when we are at the beginning of the implementation of a new strategy."
He said there was nothing specific about why he was replacing McKiernan. "I would say, nothing went wrong," he said, adding that after consultations, he believed, " that a fresh approach, a fresh look in the context of the new strategy, probably was in our best interest."
Asked if McKiernan's resignation ends his military career, Gates said, "Probably."
A senior Defense official called McChrystal and Rodriguez an "A-Team. ... There's no doubt they'll make a difference given their experience in Afghanistan."