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

The top U.S. general in Afghanistan was summoned to Washington for a White House meeting after apologizing for flippant and dismissive remarks about top Obama administration officials.

McChrystal and his inner-circle officers have spent much of the past decade either at war or in some of the Pentagon's most demanding staff positions. The grinding deployments have fueled tension between the White House and the military that dates to the Afghan strategy review last fall. Some military officials, including many on McChrystal's staff, interpreted the president's decision at the time to impose a deadline on the U.S. troop surge as a sign that the administration wasn't serious about winning the Afghan war.

The major question confronting Obama was whether he could lose his general without losing the war.

"My advice is to call him back to Washington, publicly chastise him and then make it clear that there is something greater at stake here," said Nathaniel Fick, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is the chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank that has backed Obama's Afghan strategy. "It takes time for anyone to get up to speed, and right now time is our most precious commodity in Afghanistan."

If McChrystal is allowed to stay in command, he will have to work hard to repair his relationships with civilian leaders such as Eikenberry and Holbrooke. In recent months, senior U.S. officials and military experts have characterized the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan as disjointed, with the military and the State Department at times working at cross-purposes.

Before the article was published, the relationship between McChrystal and Eikenberry seemed to be improving. But deeper divides between the State Department and the military remained.

"Of all the keys to victory in counterinsurgency campaigns, the only one we fully control is unity of effort," said a civilian adviser to McChrystal's command. "It's absolutely critical. And we've made a complete mockery of it."

Londoño reported from Kabul. Staff writers Scott Wilson and Rajiv Chandrasekaran contributed to this report.

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