WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama ousted Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan on Wednesday, choosing the embattled general's direct boss - Gen. David Petraeus - to take over the troubled 9-year-old war.
McChrystal was summoned to Washington from Kabul to explain scathing, mocking remarks about administration officials, including Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, by him and his team in a magazine article. But the morning showdown with Obama in the Oval Office was not enough to save his job.
McChrystal offered his resignation and Obama accepted it.
Petraeus, who attended a formal Afghanistan war meeting at the White House Wednesday, now oversees the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq as head of U.S. Central Command.
By pairing the decision on McChrystal's departure with the name of his replacement, Obama is seeking to move on as quickly as possible from the firestorm surrounding the Rolling Stone magazine story and the renewed debate over his Afghanistan policy that it provoked. With Washington abuzz about this controversy, there was an almost complete lockdown on information about the morning's developments.
It was not even known where McChrystal went after his half-hour meeting with Obama at the White House, which came not long after his early morning arrival from Afghanistan. Petraeus is the nation's best-known military man, having risen to prominence as the commander who turned around the Iraq war in 2007. The Afghanistan job is actually a step down from his current post. Petraeus has a reputation for rigorous discipline and careful attention to his image. He keeps a punishing pace - spending more than 300 days on the road last year.
Petraeus briefly collapsed during Senate testimony last week, apparently from dehydration. It was a rare glimpse of weakness for a man known as among the military's most driven. He is also among the brightest, and rose to command through a mix of brains and now has been adapted for Afghanistan. Petraeus has repeatedly denied that he plans to run for president in 2012, and is said to want only one job: chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff.
In the hearing last week, Petraeus told Congress he would recommend delaying the pullout of U.S. forces from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011 if need be, saying security and political conditions in Afghanistan must be ready to handle a U.S. drawdown. That does not mean Petraeus is opposed to bringing some troops home, and he said repeatedly that he supports the new Afghanistan strategy that Obama announced in December.
Petraeus' caution is rooted in the fact that the uniformed military - and counterinsurgency specialists in particular - have always been uncomfortable with fixed parameters.