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Obama, McChrystal meet at White House following belittling critique

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.

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By Greg Jaffe and Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 23, 2010; 10:11 AM

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

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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 Tuesday, President Obama made it clear that it is up to him to decide the general's fate.

McChrystal met with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at the Pentagon early Wednesday morning before arriving at the White House for a private session with Obama that began about 9:45 a.m.

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

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.

Gates said Tuesday that 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.

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