Obama to confront US Afghan commander
United States President Barack Obama will confront his top Afghanistan commander on Wednesday before deciding whether to fire him over inflammatory comments that have angered the White House and threaten to undermine the war effort.
Summoned from Afghanistan to meet with Obama, General Stanley McChrystal will be asked to explain remarks he and his aides made in a Rolling Stone magazine article that disparaged the president and mocked other senior civilian leaders.
The situation poses a dilemma for Obama, who faces the choice of either being seen as tolerating insubordination from the military or shaking up the chain of command at a perilous moment in the unpopular nine-year-old war.
Despite a surge that has brought the US-dominated foreign force to 150 000, the Taliban insurgency is at its strongest since the hard-line Islamists were overthrown in 2001.
Obama, described as furious about the article in private but speaking in measured tones in public, issued a stern rebuke to McChrystal and said he would talk directly to the general before making a final decision.
“I think it’s clear that the article in which he and his team appeared showed poor judgement,” Obama told reporters after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
‘It should never have happened’
US officials said they expected McChrystal, the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan and architect of Obama’s war strategy, to offer his resignation and allow the president to decide whether to accept it.
With his career on the line, the 55-year-old general has apologised. “It was a mistake reflecting poor judgement and should never have happened,” McChrystal said in a statement.
In the article entitled “The Runaway General”, McChrystal himself makes belittling remarks about Vice-President Joe Biden and the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke. His aides are quoted as calling one top Obama official a “clown” and another a “wounded animal”.
The furore surrounding McChrystal comes amid growing doubts in Congress and declining support among the public for the war effort in Afghanistan. Obama is mindful that success or failure will be a major part of his foreign policy legacy.
The article surfaced on the eve of Obama’s monthly meeting with his Afghan war council. McChrystal typically joins by teleconference but Obama ordered him to fly in and participate directly and also meet one-on-one in the Oval Office.
In another scheduled phone call, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told Obama he fully supported McChrystal and said he did not want to see disruption at the top, a Karzai aide said.
“The president expressed his confidence and believes that General McChrystal is soldier of great integrity and he has been very helpful to the process in Afghanistan,” said spokesperson Waheed Omer.
“These are the views of president of Afghanistan and our government ... that any gap in the process at this very important juncture is not going to be helpful.”
White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs said McChrystal made a “profound” mistake and “all options were on the table” with regard to his fate.
Obama was more cautious, saying the success of the war effort in Afghanistan would be uppermost in any decision.
McChrystal is the author of Washington’s current strategic effort in Afghanistan, which emphasises a counter-insurgency that improves security alongside a governance and development drive.
Lawmakers were split over whether McChrystal should go, while defence officials say they have confidence that a suitable replacement could be found if he is sacked.
Possible successors include Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, who is now McChrystal’s number two; Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who runs the Nato training mission for Afghan forces; and General James Mattis, the commander of US Joint Forces Command.—Reuters