Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Top US general fights for his job

By North America correspondent Lisa Millar, staff

Updated 3 hours 24 minutes ago

US  General Stanley McChrystal boards a Black Hawk helicopter in  Afghanistan.

'All options on the table': Stanley McChrystal has been summoned to Washington over the Rolling Stone interview (Reuters: Denis Sinyakov )

The future of the US military's top commander in Afghanistan is in doubt after he and his staff made disparaging remarks about the Obama administration to a journalist.

General Stanley McChrystal has been recalled to Washington to explain the comments, made during an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

The article quotes the general and his aides criticising vice-president Joe Biden, describing another official as a "clown", and voicing the disappointment the general felt when he first met president Barack Obama.

This morning Mr Obama, who will meet General McChrystal in Washington tomorrow, refused to rule out sacking the general, who is in charge of the current US-led surge in Afghanistan.

"I think it is clear that the article in which he and his team appeared showed a poor judgment," Mr Obama said. "But I also want to make sure that I talk to him directly before I make any final decision."

Asked whether Mr Obama was considering ousting the general, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters: "All options are on the table."

"I think the magnitude and graveness of the mistake here are profound," he said.

Mr Gibbs said he gave Mr Obama a copy of the article on Monday night and the president twice left the White House residence and went to the Oval Office to confer with his advisers.

Defence secretary Robert Gates released a statement saying General McChrystal made a "significant mistake".

The article quotes a member of General McChrystal's team making jokes about Mr Biden, who was seen as critical of the general's efforts to escalate the conflict and who had favoured 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".

In the article, an unnamed adviser to General McChrystal alleges the general came away unimpressed after a meeting with Mr Obama in the Oval Office a year ago, just after the president named him to take over in Afghanistan.

"It was a 10-minute photo op," the general's adviser said.

"Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. He didn't seem very engaged. The boss was pretty disappointed."

General McChrystal is also quoted as saying he felt "betrayed" by the leak of a classified cable from US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry last year. The cable raised doubts about sending more troops to shore up an Afghan government already lacking in credibility.

The general has apologised, saying the comments in the interview reflected poor judgment and should never have happened.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai fully backed General McChrystal, saying he "believes he is the best commander the United States has sent to Afghanistan over the last nine years," a spokesman said.

Retired Australian Major General Jim Molan says General McChrystal has made a number of embarrassing errors over the years but has now kicked one of the "greatest own goals in military history".

But Major General Molan - who knows General McChrystal well - says he should not have to go.

"[Not] at this stage of the game," he said. "I think he's worth persisting with one more time - maybe this time he'll learn to keep his mouth shut and keep the journos away.

"If I was him, I wouldn't resign. It would be a shame if he has already resigned. But if he does, it's not a disaster. There's plenty more where he came from."

First posted Tue Jun 22, 2010 10:12pm AEST

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