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US military chief summoned to explain Obama comments

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-06-22

General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, has been summoned to Washington to explain comments by his aides denouncing senior US officials, including President Barack Obama, to be published in Rolling Stone magazine.

AFP - The US military commander in Afghanistan Tuesday was summoned to the White House after he and his aides mocked and criticized top officials including President Barack Obama in an explosive interview.
   
The unflattering article in Rolling Stone exacerbated lingering tensions between General Stanley McChrystal and the White House at a critical moment as the US deploys thousands more troops to the bloody war now in its ninth year.
   
"McChrystal has been directed to attend (Wednesday's) monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan in person" rather than appear in a secure satellite teleconference, a White House official told AFP.
   
He was "to explain to the Pentagon and the commander in chief his quotes in the piece about his colleagues," the official added.
   
In the magazine profile entitled "The Runaway General," McChrystal jokes sarcastically about preparing to answer a possible question about Vice President Joe Biden -- known as a skeptic of the commander's war strategy -- and imagines ways of "dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner."
   
McChrystal tells the magazine that he felt "betrayed" by the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, in a White House debate over war strategy last year.
   
And an unnamed McChrystal adviser says in the article that the general came away unimpressed after meeting with Obama in the Oval Office a year ago.
   
"It was a 10-minute photo op," the general's adviser says.
   
"Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was... he didn't seem very engaged," the adviser added.
   
The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, spoke to McChrystal late Monday and expressed "deep disappointment" over the article, said his spokesman, Captain John Kirby.
   
One of McChrystal's media officers, a civilian, has already resigned over the episode, Kirby said, but there were no immediate signs from the Pentagon that the commander would be sacked.
   
In the interview, a McChrystal aide also calls the national security adviser, Jim Jones, a retired general, a "clown" who is "stuck in 1985."
   
McChrystal issued a statement late Monday apologizing for his remarks to the magazine.
   
"I extend my sincerest apology for this profile," McChrystal said in a statement issued hours after the article was released to reporters Monday.
   
"It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened."
   
McChrystal already received a dressing down from Obama 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.
   
McChrystal, a former special operations chief touted highly by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, has enjoyed mostly sympathetic US media coverage but was unaccustomed to being in the political spotlight before taking over the job about a year ago.
   
The Rolling Stone article appeared to catch him and his staff in unguarded moments, including a drinking session at an Irish pub in Paris.
   
In the article McChrystal pretended to rehearse an answer to questions referring to the vice president.
   
"'Are you asking about Vice President Biden?' McChrystal says with a laugh. 'Who's that?'" the article quotes him as saying.
   
"'Biden?' suggests a top adviser. 'Did you say: Bite Me?'"
   
Widely-reported tensions between the White House and the military commander are on full display in the magazine article.
   
But top Democratic US Senator John Kerry pleaded for a "cool and calm" reaction to the row. "The top priority is our mission in Afghanistan and our ability to proceed forward competently," Kerry said.
   
He added that it would be up to President Barack Obama to decide whether to replace the commander.
   
And in Kabul, Eikenberry said through a spokeswoman that he remains "fully committed" to working with McChrystal, despite the scathing criticism.
   
As the White House reviewed the Afghan war and a request from McChrystal for tens of thousands of reinforcements, the general told the magazine he found the strategy review difficult.
   
"I found that time painful," McChrystal says. "I was selling an unsellable position."
   
In the end, the general's troop request was approved for the most part.
   
Looking at his messages on his mobile phone, McChrystal derides another senior figure, the hard-charging top US envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke.
   
"Oh, not another email from Holbrooke," McChrystal says. "I don't even want  to open it."

Date created : 2010-06-22

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