Petraeus To Replace McChrystal In Afghanistan

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A day after Gen. Stanley McChrystal's derogatory comments about the Obama administration were made public, President Obama ousted him as the top commander in Afghanistan and replaced him with Gen. David Petraeus. The president said he did not make the decision "out of any sense of personal insult," but that it was the right decision for "our national security."

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

I'm Robert Siegel.

And General Stanley McChrystal is out. This morning, President Obama accepted the resignation of the general running the war in Afghanistan. McChrystal was relieved of command after he and his aides disparaged the president's national security team in a magazine profile. McChrystal will be replaced by General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command. In a moment, we'll hear reaction from U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

But first, NPR's Scott Horsley reports from the White House.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Stanley McChrystal traveled halfway around the world to explain himself to the president after Rolling Stone magazine quoted the general and his aides, mocking people like Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser James Jones.

President Obama met privately with the general for about 30 minutes in the Oval Office this morning. During that meeting, McChrystal offered his resignation, and the president accepted it.

President BARACK OBAMA: I did so with considerable regret, but also with certainty that it is the right thing for our mission in Afghanistan, for our military, and for our country.

HORSLEY: It was also an important moment for the president, who otherwise ran the risk of looking like he couldn't control his generals. Mr. Obama took a moment to praise McChrystal for his service and his intelligence, but he said in airing his grievances with Rolling Stone, McChrystal had broken the strict code of conduct required of everyone in uniform. He'd undermined civilian control of the military, and he'd lost the trust of administration colleagues -trust that's badly needed if the U.S. is to prevail in Afghanistan.

Aides say Mr. Obama is not bothered by honest debate, but he won't tolerate pettiness. McChrystal did not attend a previously planned Afghan strategy session in the White House Situation Room, where he would've faced some of those colleagues he and his aides had criticized. At that meeting, the president told his team members, now is the time for them to come together.

Mr. OBAMA: All of us have personal interests, all of us have opinions; our politics often fuels conflict. But we have to renew our sense of common purpose, and meet our responsibilities to one another and to our troops who are in harm's way, and to our country.

HORSLEY: In flexing his authority over McChrystal, Mr. Obama invited comparisons to Harry Truman firing Douglas MacArthur. But unlike Truman, the president has no disagreement with his general over wartime strategy. In fact, Mr. Obama is basically following the troop-intensive, counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal championed over the objections of people like Vice President Biden, who wanted a smaller commitment of U.S. forces.

By immediately replacing McChrystal with David Petraeus, the president managed to project continuity for that strategy. And he told aides he's minimizing the risk of losing ground in Afghanistan. Petraeus is credited with helping to turn around a losing war effort in Iraq he literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency warfare.

Mr. OBAMA: I say to the American people, this is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy. General Petraeus fully participated in our review last fall. And he both supported and helped design the strategy that we have in place.

HORSLEY: That strategy is being sorely tested in Afghanistan, where stepped-up fighting has driven the American death toll over 1,100. An appearance of early success in Marjah turned out to be illusory. And a planned offensive in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, had to be postponed. Here at home, support for the war, which jumped briefly after the president announced a troop increase last winter, has dropped off again.

In an ABC-Washington Post poll this month, more than half the respondents said the war is not worth fighting. The president tried to counter that sentiment in his remarks this afternoon.

Mr. OBAMA: We will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists who want to destroy Afghan society from within and launch attacks against innocent men, women and children in our country and around the world.

HORSLEY: Aides called this a sad day at the White House. It was also a day when President Obama underscored his role as commander in chief.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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