In a decision he said was necessary to sustain "unity of effort" and meet the objectives in a country where American troops have been battling for nine years, President Obama nominated Gen. David Petraeus to lead the war effort in Afghanistan.
Petraeus, currently commander of U.S. Central Command and formerly the commander of the coalition effort in Iraq, replaces Gen. Stanley McChrystal, just one day after a Rolling Stone Magazine profile created a firestorm by quoting McChrystal and his aides criticizing and mocking high level administration officials like Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones and others.
"All Americans should be grateful for Gen. McChrystal's remarkable career in uniform," the president told reporters gathered in the Rose Garden. "But war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general or a president. As difficult as it is to lose Gen. McChrystal, I believe it is a the right decision for our national security."
Obama was joined at the announcement by Petraeus, Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.
Calling it his duty to "ensure that no diversion complicates the vital mission" in Afghanistan, the president said McChrystal's conduct had not met the standard that should be set by a commanding general, undermined the civilian control of the military at the core of America's democratic system and had eroded the trust necessary for the team to achieve its objectives in the country. Obama said replacing McChrystal with Petraeus would allow the U.S.-led effort to "maintain the momentum and leadership that we need to succeed."
Obama met with McChrystal for 30 minutes in the Oval Office this morning, before holding a larger meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Situation Room with his entire national security team. McChrystal had been called back from Kabul to speak directly to the president. He had been included on the list of expected attendees at the larger meeting, but he was seen departing the White House shortly after his conversation with the president ended.
The president said McChrystal was someone he had come to respect and admire and that he accepted the general's resignation with "considerable regret." He also made a point of saying the change in personnel was not a done "out of any sense of personal insult."
At a time when coalition forces in Afghanistan are struggling to win over the hearts and minds of locals who've suffered under some three decades of war and U.S. and allied troops are trying to solidify hard-fought gains in one Taliban stronghold and preparing for extensive operations in another, the president reaffirmed the nation's mission in the country.
"I just told my national security team that now is the time for all of us to come together, doing so is not an option, but an obligation," Obama said, adding that while he welcomes debate on his team, he will not tolerate division. "Make no mistake, we have a clear goal: we are going to break the Taliban's momentum, we are going to build Afghan capacity, we are going to relentlessly apply pressure on Al Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same."
The president said he was "extraordinarily grateful" that Petraeus had agreed to serve and noted that he supported and helped design the strategy now in place in Afghanistan.
"I say to the American people, this is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy," Obama said. "He has worked closely with the Afghan and Pakistan governments and with all our partners in the region. He has my full confidence and I am urging the Senate to confirm him for this new assignment as swiftly as possible."
After his roughly eight minutes of remarks, the president left the podium, ignoring a shouted question about whether the war in Afghanistan could be won, a question war critics have been raising since before Obama's December announcement of a surge of some 30,000 troops into the country.