The White House has summoned the top U.S. general in Afghanistan to Washington to explain controversial remarks critical of the Obama administration published in a Rolling Stone magazine article.

Globe and Mail

U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, listens to a question from a reporters in the briefing room of the White House in Washington in this May 10, 2010

Anne Gearan

Washington — Reuters and The Associated Press

Tuesday, Jun. 22, 2010

The White House has summoned the top U.S. general in Afghanistan to Washington to explain controversial remarks critical of the Obama administration, U.S. military and Obama administration officials said on Tuesday.

The move comes after General Stanley McChrystal, the the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, apologized for comments by his aides insulting some of President Barack Obama’s closest advisers in an article to be published in Rolling Stone magazine.

The military officials said Gen. McChrystal has been ordered to attend the monthly White House meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan in person Wednesday rather than over a secure video teleconference, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. He’ll be expected to explain his comments to Mr. Obama and top Pentagon officials, these officials said. It was not immediately clear whether Gen. McChrystal would be ousted.

Mr. Obama has the authority to fire Gen. McChrystal. His predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, was sacked on grounds that the military needed “new thinking and new approaches” in Afghanistan.

Earlier, Gen. McChrystal apologized for the interview in which he said he felt betrayed by the man the White House chose to be his diplomatic partner, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

The article in this week’s issue of Rolling Stone depicts Gen. McChrystal as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration and unable to convince even some of his own soldiers that his strategy can win the war.

In Kabul on Tuesday, Gen. McChrystal issued a statement saying: “I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened.”

In Rolling Stone, Gen. McChrystal is described by an aide as “disappointed” in his first Oval Office meeting with an unprepared President Barack Obama. The article says that although Gen. McChrystal voted for Mr. Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Mr. Obama called Gen. McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops.

“I found that time painful,” Gen. McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.”

The magazine quotes a member ofGen. McChrystal’s team making jokes about Vice President Joe Biden, who was seen as critical of the general’s efforts to escalate the conflict and who had favored a more limited counter-terrorism approach.

“Biden?” the aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”

Another aide called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Mr. Obama agreed to dispatch an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan only after months of study that many in the military found frustrating. And the White House’s troop commitment was coupled with a pledge to begin bringing them home in July 2011, in what counterinsurgency strategists advising Gen. McChrystal regarded as an arbitrary deadline.

Gen. McChrystal said Tuesday, “I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome.”

In Brussels on Tuesday, a NATO spokesman called the article “rather unfortunate, but it is just an article.”

The spokesman added that NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen “has full confidence in General McChrystal as the NATO commander, and in his strategy.”

The profile, titled “The Runaway General,” emerged from several weeks of interviews and travel with Gen. McChrystal’s tight circle of aides this spring.

It includes a list of Obama administration figures said to back Gen. McChrystal, including Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and puts Vice-President Joe Biden at the top of a list of those who don’t.

The article claims Gen. McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Mr. Biden initially opposed Gen. McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favoured a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

If Mr. Eikenberry had the same doubts, Gen. McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Mr. Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy Gen. McChrystal was hired to execute.

Gen. McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” Gen. McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”’

There was no immediate response from Mr. Eikenberry.

Mr. Eikenberry remains in his post in Kabul, and although both men publicly say they are friends, their rift is on full display.

Gen. McChrystal and Mr. Eikenberry, himself a retired Army general, stood as far apart as the speakers’ platform would allow during a White House news conference last month.

Gen. McChrystal has a history of drawing criticism, despite his military achievements.

In June 2006 President George W. Bush congratulated McChrystal for his role in the operation that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. As head of the special operations command, Gen. McChrystal’s forces included the Army’s clandestine counterterrorism unit, Delta Force.

He drew criticism for his role in the military’s handling of the friendly fire shooting of Army Ranger Pat Tillman — a former NFL star — in Afghanistan. An investigation at the time found that Gen. McChrystal was “accountable for the inaccurate and misleading assertions” contained in papers recommending that Tillman get a Silver Star award.

McChrystal acknowledged he had suspected several days before approving the Silver Star citation that Tillman might have died by fratricide, rather than enemy fire. He sent a memo to military leaders warning them of that, even as they were approving Tillman’s Silver Star. Still, he told investigators he believed Tillman deserved the award.

This week’s development comes as criminal investigators are said to be examining allegations that Afghan security firms have been extorting as much as $4-million a week from contractors paid with U.S. tax dollars and then funnelling the spoils to warlords and the Taliban, according to a U.S. military document. The payments are intended to ensure safe passage through dangerous areas they control.

The payments reportedly end up in insurgent hands through a $2.1-billion Pentagon contract to transport food, water, fuel and ammunition to American troops stationed at bases across Afghanistan.

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