President Barack Obama fired his top Afghanistan commander on Wednesday over inflammatory comments that angered the White House and threatened to undermine the war effort.
Calling it the "right thing for our mission in Afghanistan," Obama relieved General Stanley McChrystal of his command after a 30-minute meeting at the White House and named General David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, to replace him.
McChrystal had been summoned by Obama to explain remarks he and his aides made in a magazine article that disparaged the U.S. president and other senior civilian leaders.
"The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden.
"It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that's necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan," he said.
The situation posed a dilemma for Obama. If McChrystal had kept his job, the president could have been seen as tolerating insubordination from the military. But by firing him, Obama is shaking up the chain of command at a perilous moment in the unpopular 9-year-old war.
Vowing not to tolerate divisions within his national security team, Obama said the switch in generals was a "change in personnel but it is not a change in policy." There have been increasing doubts among U.S. lawmakers about Obama's troop buildup strategy against a resurgent Taliban.
McChrystal first met Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon before entering the White House through a side door for his one-on-one meeting with Obama. He left before Obama's Afghanistan war council, which he had been due to attend, convened in late morning.
Obama had been described by aides as furious about the Rolling Stone magazine article, but said in his Rose Garden appearance that he was not acting out of a feeling of personal insult.
Amid harsh criticism over McChrystal's contemptuous remarks, U.S. officials had said they expected the general, the U.S. 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 apologized. "It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened," McChrystal said in a statement. (Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and Jeff Mason; Editing by Patricia Wilson and Doina Chiacu)