Washington: US President Barack Obama relieved General Stanley McChrystal of his duties Wednesday over disparaging remarks in a magazine article, replacing him as Afghan commander with General David Petraeus.
"I welcome debate among my team, but I won`t tolerate division," Obama said as he announced his "difficult decision" to accept McChrystal`s offer of resignation.
McChrystal was ordered back to Washington for a one-on-one showdown with Obama earlier Wednesday over his stunning criticisms of the US national security team in a magazine article.
Petraeus, who saved a failing US mission in Iraq, will step aside as the commander of all US forces in the Middle East to take over the faltering NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan, pending the formality of congressional approval.
McChrystal was abruptly ordered to leave the war zone and show up at the White House to explain himself over a stunningly candid magazine interview in which he criticized the president and his cabinet.
He left after a 31-minute talk with Obama and was not seen returning before the president convened a meeting on war strategy with senior national security aides and military top brass in the secure Situation Room of the White House.
Seen by the White House as an "enormous mistake," the Rolling Stone interview threw a harsh spotlight on Obama`s surge strategy at a time when the war is plagued by rising troop deaths and falling public support.
McChrystal, who had also commanded NATO forces in Afghanistan, first met Gates at the Pentagon, then went to see Obama, who was due to give a statement at 1730 GMT that was delayed.
The uproar comes at a critical crossroads in the Afghan war with lawmakers increasingly anxious that the mission is failing amid delays in a make-or-break offensive to drive the Taliban out of their Kandahar stronghold.
The clock is ticking on a White House deadline to start withdrawing some US troops by July 2011, and Obama had been under pressure from some to keep McChrystal so as not to throw this timeline off course.
McChrystal had won some backing in Europe, where nations participating in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said that this was no time for a change of command in the war against the Taliban.
In Kabul, Waheed Omar, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, had also warned against McChrystal`s dismissal.
"The president believes we`re at a sensitive juncture in our partnership, in our war on terror, in the process of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan, and that any gap in this process will not be helpful," he said.
In Rolling Stone`s profile, titled "The Runaway General," McChrystal aides mocked Vice President Joe Biden, dismissed Obama`s national security adviser as "a clown," and revealed that McChrystal was "disappointed" by his first meeting with Obama.
"It was a 10-minute photo op," the adviser was quoted as saying. "Obama clearly didn`t know anything about him, who he was... he didn`t seem very engaged."
McChrystal himself is quoted as deriding US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, and as saying he felt "betrayed" by the American ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry, who had raised pointed objections to his strategy.
Obama had said Tuesday he wanted to first talk with McChrystal before deciding his fate.
The Rolling Stone article brought to the surface lingering tensions between military leaders and the White House, just as the US deploys 30,000 more troops to the war prompted by the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Obama had already admonished McChrystal last year over his remarks at a London conference in which he appeared to reject Biden`s argument in favor of fewer troops in Afghanistan.
Obama named McChrystal to oversee a faltering Afghanistan campaign in May 2009, after he fired General David McKiernan.
Statement by Gen. Stanley McChrystal
The statement issued by Gen. Stanley McChrystal after President Barack Obama announced his dismissal the top NATO commander in Afghanistan:
This morning the President accepted my resignation as Commander of U.S. and NATO Coalition Forces in Afghanistan. I strongly support the President`s strategy in Afghanistan and am deeply committed to our coalition forces, our partner nations, and the Afghan people. It was out of respect for this commitment — and a desire to see the mission succeed — that I tendered my resignation.
It has been my privilege and honor to lead our nation`s finest.