US & Canada

General Stanley McChrystal summoned over article claims

US ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry (foreground) with Gen Stanley McChrystal
Image caption Gen McChrystal says he felt "betrayed" by ambassador Karl Eikenberry

The top US commander in Afghanistan has been summoned to Washington in the wake of a magazine article that quotes him and aides criticising senior Obama administration officials and diplomats.

Gen Stanley McChrystal has apologised over the article in Rolling Stone.

In it, he is quoted as sharply criticising the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry.

And the general's aides say he was "disappointed" when meeting President Barack Obama for the first time.

Other targets of criticism by the general or his aides include Vice-President Joe Biden, National Security Adviser James Jones and the special US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke.

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Afghanistan says the article highlights the long-suspected divisions between the US military and administration officials.

A White House official said Gen McChrystal had "been directed to attend [Wednesday's] monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan in person" rather than by teleconference "to explain to the Pentagon and the commander-in-chief his quotes in the piece about his colleagues".

And in a strongly worded statement, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Gen McChrystal had made a "significant mistake" and "exercised poor judgment".

'Clown'

The Rolling Stone article - a profile of Gen McChrystal entitled The Runaway General, written by a journalist who was given access to the commander and his staff over several weeks - is due out on Friday.

In it, Gen McChrystal says he felt "betrayed" by Eikenberry during the White House debate on troop requests for Afghanistan.

Gen McChrystal suggests the ambassador to Kabul was using a leaked internal memo that questioned the wisdom of troop requests as a way of protecting himself from future criticism over the deployment.

The general says: "I like Karl, I've known him for years, but they'd never said anything like that to us before.

"Here's one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say, 'I told you so.'"

Gen McChrystal also mocks the vice-president in response to a question. "Are you asking about Vice-President Biden?" McChrystal asks. "Who's that?"

Another aide refers to a key Oval Office meeting with the president a year ago.

The aide says it was "a 10-minute photo op", adding: "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was... he didn't seem very engaged. The boss was pretty disappointed."

Another aide refers to National Security Adviser Jones as a "clown stuck in 1985".

Of an e-mail from Mr Holbrooke, Gen McChrystal says: "Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke... I don't even want to open it."

Aide quits

Duncan Boothby, a special assistant to Gen McChrystal who organised the Rolling Stone journalist's access to the commander, has resigned as a result of the article.

A spokesman for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm Mike Mullen said the admiral had telephoned Gen McChrystal and "expressed his deep disappointment in the piece and the comments".

Gen McChrystal has attempted to limit the damage in advance of Rolling Stone hitting the newsstands.

He said in a statement: "I extend my sincerest apology for this profile.

"It was a mistake reflecting poor judgement and should never have happened."

He adds: "Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honour and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard.

"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."

'Unfortunate'

Gen McChrystal replaced Gen David McKiernan last year and has sought to reduce the number of Afghan civilians being killed in combat operations.

After his appointment, Gen McChrystal was drawn into a long and detailed strategy review with the president, finally getting an additional 30,000 US troops from Mr Obama.

But analysts say Gen McChrystal disagreed with the pledge to start bringing troops home in July 2011.

In his statement, Mr Gates said he had read "with concern" the Rolling Stone article.

"I believe that General McChrystal made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment in this case. We are fighting a war against al-Qaeda and its extremist allies, who directly threaten the United States, Afghanistan, and our friends and allies around the world.

"Going forward, we must pursue this mission with a unity of purpose. Our troops and coalition partners are making extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our security, and our singular focus must be on supporting them and succeeding in Afghanistan without such distractions.

"General McChrystal has apologised to me and is similarly reaching out to others named in this article to apologise to them as well. I have recalled Gen McChrystal to Washington to discuss this in person."

Taliban reacts

A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Waheed Omer, voiced support for Gen McChrystal.

"The president strongly supports General McChrystal and his strategy in Afghanistan and believes he is the best commander the United States has sent to Afghanistan over the last nine years," he said.

John Kerry, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appealed for a "cool and calm" response.

"The top priority is the mission in Afghanistan and the ability to proceed forward competently," he said.

A spokeswoman for the US embassy in Kabul, Caitlin Hayden, said: "We have seen the article. As ambassador Eikenberry has said on many occasions, he and General McChrystal are both fully committed to the president's strategy and to working together as one civilian-military team to implement it."

Nato spokesman James Appathurai said the article was "unfortunate", but that the organisation's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had "full confidence in General McChrystal as the Nato commander and in his strategy".

A spokesman for the Taliban said Gen McChrystal's recall was another sign of the start of the "political defeat" for US policies in Afghanistan.

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