Obama orders McChrystal back to Washington after remarks about U.S. officials

President Obama removes McChrystal as commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan on Wednesday after remarks he made in a magazine interview about top administration officials.
By Greg Jaffe and Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's belittling critique of some of the Obama administration's top officials left the president with a stark choice on Tuesday: overlook comments that border on insubordination, or fire his top commander at a critical moment in Afghanistan.

Even as thousands of U.S. troops were moving into Kandahar province for what is expected to be a crucial phase in one of the longest U.S. wars, McChrystal appeared dangerously close to losing his command because of the incendiary remarks he and members of his inner circle had made in an article in the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

While a U.S. official said that McChrystal had already made an informal resignation offer to senior military officials before flying to Washington, President Obama made it clear that it is up to him to decide the general's fate.

"I want to make sure I talk to him before I make any final decision," said Obama, whom aides described as furious over the article.

There was a widespread recognition among military and political officials that McChrystal had crossed a venerated line in criticizing his civilian chain of command. Even though McChrystal issued an apology, many of his staunchest backers said the remarks by him and his staff members in the article -- titled "The Runaway General" -- were grounds for dismissal.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said McChrystal made a "significant mistake" and used "poor judgment."

"Our troops and coalition partners are making extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our security, and our singular focus must be on supporting them and succeeding in Afghanistan without such distractions," Gates said.

During his 12 months in Kabul, McChrystal has earned a reputation as a forthright commander with an unscripted style and a strong work ethic. He has forged a close working relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was quick to come to the general's defense Tuesday, saying that his loss would be a major setback for the war effort.

Still, McChrystal has stumbled frequently in his interactions with the media, often to the great irritation of the White House. It has interpreted the general's outspoken manner as an effort to box Obama into backing a major troop surge and large-scale counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

In the article, McChrystal suggests that Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, the top U.S. civilian in Afghanistan, "betrayed" him by suggesting in a classified cable last fall that Karzai was not a credible partner in the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal was advocating. He and his staff also made derisive comments about Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Vice President Biden, who has expressed skepticism regarding McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy.

"Are you asking me about Vice President Biden? Who's that?" McChrystal is quoted as saying at one point in the article.

"Biden?" chimes in an aide who is seated nearby, and who is not named in the article. "Did you say: Bite Me?"

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company