‘Angry’ Obama recalls Afghan commander to Washington


Kabul/Washington : The top NATO commander in Afghanistan was immediately summoned to Washington Tuesday after a magazine article portrayed him as dismissive of senior US officials for their concerns about the ongoing war effort.

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General Stanley McChrystal will meet US President Barack Obama Wednesday to explain “what in the world he was thinking”, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, leaving open whether the commander might be relieved of his duties after that meeting.

In an article in Rolling Stone magazine, McChrystal is portrayed as critical of top US officials including Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, for their doubts about his war strategy.

“There clearly has been an enormous mistake in judgement, to which he is going to have to answer to,” Gibbs said, adding Obama was “angry” when he read an advance copy of the article Monday night.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates also said he “read with concern” the magazine profile and had recalled the general to discuss the article. He said McChrystal had apologised for the remarks.

Maintaining “unity of purpose” was critical as a tough war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan continued, Gates said in a statement. “Our singular focus must be on supporting (the troops) and succeeding in Afghanistan without such distractions.”

A NATO military official in Kabul confirmed that McChrystal left Kabul for Washington Tuesday afternoon. An Afghan government source confirmed to DPA that McChrystal met President Hamid Karzai Tuesday before his trip back home.

In the article, McChrystal is quoted as searching for one-liners to dismiss Biden during a dinner in Paris – one aide suggests telling Biden to “bite me”. Another advisor said McChrystal was disappointed with Obama during their first meeting at the White House in 2009.

“Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his fucking war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed,” the Rolling Stone article quotes the advisor as saying.

Earlier Tuesday the commander issued an apology, saying the article “was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened”.

“Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honour and professional integrity,” McChrystal said. “What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard.”

The US general, who commands more than 130,000 US soldiers and troops from 43 other NATO and non-NATO countries, also said he had “enormous respect and admiration for President (Barack) Obama and his national security team”.

Despite Washington’s swift move to summon the commander to explain his comments, NATO headquarters in Brussels hurried to give its backing to McChrystal.

“The Rolling Stone article is rather unfortunate, but it is just an article. We are in the middle of a very real conflict, and the Secretary General has full confidence in General McChrystal as the NATO commander, and in his strategy,” a NATO spokesman said.

The general also denounced US Ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry for an internal memo expressing disagreement with the general’s request for extra troops.

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the US embassy in Kabul, said Eikenberry and McChrystal “are fully committed to the president’s strategy and to working together as one civilian-military team”.

McChrystal aides interviewed for the report also reportedly criticised Obama and his national security advisor, Jim Jones.