Gen. David Petraeus Will Replace Embattled Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan

Obama said McChrystal's comments undermined civilian control of military.

ByABC News
June 23, 2010, 1:13 PM

June 23, 2010— -- President Obama today relieved embattled Gen. Stanley McChrystal from his position as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan for his remarks belittling administration officials, replacing him with Gen. David Petraeus, currently head of United States Central Command.

McChrystal's conduct, as detailed in the Rolling Stone article, "does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general," the president said today. "It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our Democratic system, and it erodes the trust that's necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan."

The president praised McChrystal for his "extraordinary dedication" and "love of the country," but made it clear the comments McChrystal and his aides made could jeopardize the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

"All Americans should be grateful for Gen. McChrystal's remarkable career in uniform. But war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, general or a president, " the president said. "I believe that it is the right decision for our national security."

Obama said the change was needed to maintain unity of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and to "hold ourselves accountable to standards that are at the core of our democracy." The president reaffirmed that the change in personnel didn't mean a change in U.S. policy.

"I welcome debate among my team, but I won't tolerate division," he said.

The embattled general, who was named the top commander in Afghanistan a year ago, met Obama for about 30 minutes this morning. He offered his resignation and the president accepted it, and no formal letter of resignation was offered, an administration official said.

In a written statement, McChrystal said he resigned out of "a desire to see the mission succeed."

"This morning the president accepted my resignation as Commander of U.S. and NATO Coalition Forces in Afghanistan," McChrystal said. "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."

Obama spoke with Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier today about possible replacements, including Petraeus, who was thought to be the best choice, since he would provide "the greatest amount of continuity" with the mission.

On the ground, news of McChrystal's dismissal and Petraeus' new position was met with surprise, but also a sense of relief that an experienced commander will take the helm.

As one Marine told ABC News, "the softball is teed up for Petraeus to hit it out of the park."

Some Marines said the new position may be a bit of a comedown for Petraeus, 57, who is best known for turning around the Iraq war in 2007 and is widely credited with devising the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy. In September 2008, as Petraeus was leaving Iraq, Gates dubbed him the "hero of the hour."

In Washington, lawmakers also heaved a sigh of relief at Petraeus' pick, well regarded on both sides of the political aisle for his leadership in the Iraq war.

"This is the most pressing theater, the most pressing mission, and Petraeus is someone who has the relationships and has the relationship with the president, and has the experience dealing publicly with people and the press," said Nate Fick, chief executive of the Center for a New American Security. "It's a good save."

Petraeus' pick won in Republican circles and muted any criticism that could have emerged from McChrystal's removal.

"There is no one more qualified or more outstanding a leader than Gen. Petraeus to achieve successful conclusion of the Afghan conflict," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said today.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, called Petraeus "the right person to take over this command."

In a statement, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was similarly enthusiastic.

Obama's "decision to return General Petraeus to the battlefield provides not just continuity in philosophy, but tested diplomatic skill that is at the very center of a military strategy which hinges on progress in governance to sustain military gains," Kerry said.

But Republicans did take the opportunity to question the administration's timetable for withdrawal.

"David Petraeus is our best hope," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said. "If things don't change, nobody can pull out of Afghanistan."

Petraeus' confirmation on Capitol Hill is expected to be swift, but it is likely to refocus attention on the war in Afghanistan, at a time when the White House agenda is grappling with a multitude of domestic issues, including the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the economy.

The war in Afghanistan has become the longest war in U.S. history, and more than 1,000 troops have died there since the U.S. invaded the country in 2001.

Comments made by McChrystal and his aides to freelance writer Michael Hastings highlighted the lack of trust between the military and civilian leaders, and raised widespread concern over whether that would jeopardize U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

But despite the anger in the White House over McChrystal's comments, the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai threw its full support behind McChrystal and warned that his departure could disrupt U.S.-Afghanistan partnership. McChrystal was often the intermediary between Karzai and U.S. leaders such as ambassador Karl Eikenberry, whose distrust of Karzai is well documented.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement that the group will continue to support the U.S. strategy and carry on as normal despite McChrystal's departure.

"Our operations in Afghanistan are continuing today, and they will not miss a beat," he said.

British Lt. Gen. Parker will serve as the temporary NATO commander until Petraeus is confirmed, the British government announced today.