`US, NATO strategy for Afghanistan unchanged`

The sacking of Gen McChrystal will not change Afghan policy, says Obama.

Zeenews Bureau

Brussels: US and NATO strategy in Afghanistan will not be altered by the sacking of the top US military commander there, US President Barack Obama has said.

In the meantime, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that NATO will maintain its approach to Afghanistan.

"I have taken note that General McChrystal is stepping down as Commander of the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. While he will no longer be the commander, the approach he helped put in place is the right one," Rasmussen said in a statement.

"The strategy continues to have NATO`s support and our forces will continue to carry it out."

Naming General David Petraeus to replace McChrystal, Obama also said the shift did not reflect a change in policy.

McChrystal`s dismissal follows remarks he and his aides made in a magazine article that disparaged the US President and other senior civilian leaders.

In his statement, Rasmussen said NATO`s top diplomat in Afghanistan Mark Sedwill will continue to oversee political efforts.

"Our operations in Afghanistan are continuing today, and they will not miss a beat," he said.

A NATO spokesman said under the existing structure of the alliance`s forces its member states will not have to approve McChrystal`s departure.

McChrystal`s strategy focused on taking on the Taliban in their spiritual homeland by improving security, alongside a push to boost local governance and development, while training Afghan forces to take control before the start of a gradual US troop withdrawal.

McChrystal out; Petraeus picked

US President Barack Obama sacked his loose-lipped Afghanistan commander on Wednesday, a seismic shift for the military order in wartime, and chose the familiar, admired — and tightly disciplined — Gen David Petraeus to replace him.

Petraeus, architect of the Iraq war turnaround, was once again to take hands-on leadership of a troubled war effort.

Obama said bluntly that Gen Stanley McChrystal`s scornful remarks about administration officials in interviews for a magazine article represent conduct that "undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system”.

He fired the commander after summoning him from Afghanistan for a face to face meeting in the Oval Office and named Petraeus, the Central Command chief who was McChrystal`s direct boss, to step in.

By pairing those announcements, Obama sought to move on from the firestorm that was renewing debate over his revamped Afghanistan policy. It was meant to assure Afghans, US allies and a restive American electorate that a firm hand is running the war.

Expressing praise for McChrystal yet certainty he had to go, Obama said he did not make the decision over any disagreement in policy or "out of any sense of personal insult." Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the Rose Garden, he said: "War is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general, or a president."

He urged the Senate to confirm Petraeus swiftly and emphasised the Afghanistan strategy he announced in December was not shifting with McChrystal`s departure.

"This is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy," Obama said. The President delivered the same message in a phone call to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the White House said, and Karzai told Obama he would work toward a smooth transition.

As Obama was speaking in the Rose Garden, McChrystal released a statement saying that he resigned out of "a desire to see the mission succeed" and expressing support for the war strategy.

With lawmakers of both parties praising the choice of Petraeus, the White House is confident he will be confirmed before Congress adjourns at the end of next week.

Obama hit several grace notes about McChrystal and his service after their meeting, saying he made the decision to sack him "with considerable regret”. And yet, he said the job in Afghanistan cannot be done now under McChrystal`s leadership, asserting that the critical remarks from the general and his inner circle in Rolling Stone displayed conduct that doesn`t live up to the standards for a command-level officer.

"I welcome debate among my team, but I won`t tolerate division," Obama said. He had delivered that same message — that there must be no more backbiting — to his full war cabinet in a Situation Room session, said a senior administration official.

The announcement came as June became the deadliest month for the US-dominated international coalition in Afghanistan. NATO announced eight more international troop deaths on Wednesday for a total of 76 this month, one more than in the deadliest month previously, in July 2009. Forty-six of those killed this month were Americans. The US has 90,800 troops in Afghanistan.

(With Agencies’ inputs)

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