By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 24, 2010 - Judgment and civilian control of the military were at the heart of President Barack Obama's decision to accept Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's resignation as the NATO and U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.
Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both said they "fully support" Obama's decision and his nomination of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus to replace McChrystal.
"Like the president, I deeply regret the circumstances that made this decision necessary," Gates said during a Pentagon news conference. "General McChrystal is one of the finest officers and warriors of his generation, who has an extraordinary record in leading the fight against some of this country's most lethal enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Gates and Mullen said McChrystal showed poor judgment with regard to the Rolling Stone profile in which he and members of his staff were critical of administration officials. The situation "has made his continued service in that post and as a member of the national security team untenable," Gates said. "The statements and attitudes reported in the news media are unacceptable under our form of government, and are inconsistent with the high standards expected of military leaders."
The chairman said he was stunned when he read the Rolling Stone profile.
"I cannot excuse his lack of judgment with respect to the Rolling Stone article or a command climate he evidently permitted that was at best disrespectful of civilian authority," Mullen said. "We do not have that luxury, those of us in uniform. We do not have the right, nor should we ever assume the prerogative, to cast doubt upon the ability or mock the motives of our civilian leaders, elected or appointed."
Military personnel are and must remain a neutral instrument of the government, he said. Servicemembers must be accountable to and respectful of civilian leaders "no matter which party holds sway or which person holds a given office," Mullen said.
Military leaders must step down when they lose the trust and confidence of civilian leaders, the chairman said.
"The job we are called upon to do for the nation is too important, the lives we are sworn to protect too precious, to permit any doubt or uncertainty in that regard," he said. "General McChrystal did the right thing by offering to resign."
Both men stressed that while the leadership is changing, the strategy in Afghanistan is not. "Our troops and coalition partners are making extraordinary sacrifices in the fight against al-Qaida and its extremist allies," Gates said. "Our singular focus must be on succeeding in this mission without distraction or division."
Gates said that he was concerned that the effort in Afghanistan would lose time and focus if a new commander came in without knowledge of the situation.
One concern that the secretary had was to minimize any impact a change would have on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. "I will tell you that ... it was the president who first raised Petraeus' name," Gates said. "And it immediately, to me, answered a lot of the concerns that I had."
As the U.S. Central Command chief, Petraeus has been part of the discussions on the Afghan strategy all along. The general was in charge of U.S. military operations in Iraq during the troop surge there, and military and civilian efforts there have paid off.
"The key [in Afghanistan] was that we not lose our focus and be further distracted for a period of months," Gates said. "And that's why the selection of General Petraeus was so important, in my view. Now the president has established the strategy, but from my perspective, General Petraeus will have the flexibility to look at the campaign plan and the approach and all manner of things when he gets to Afghanistan, assuming Senate confirmation."
The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled Petraeus' confirmation hearings for June 29, and committee officials promised an early vote on the matter. NATO still must act to appoint the general as the commander of the International Security Assistance Force.
"No one – be they adversaries or friends, or especially our troops – should misinterpret these personnel changes as a slackening of this government's commitment to the mission in Afghanistan," Gates said. "We remain committed to that mission and to the comprehensive civil-military strategy ordered by the president to achieve our goals there."
Both Gates and Mullen praised McChrystal's service.
"General McChrystal and many of his immediate staff have served and protected this country in combat with great courage, valor, skill and devotion for many years," Gates said. "Their outstanding record of service remains intact for posterity, and is deserving of our lasting recognition and profound gratitude."
Mullen said McChrystal is a friend with whom he worked when the general served as the director of the Joint Staff for a year.
"He's a fine soldier and a good man," Mullen said of McChrystal. "He has served his country nobly and with great distinction for more than three decades, much of that last decade at war. He led men in places the rest of us could not follow, and he fought men in ways the rest of us could not fathom.
"I was proud one year ago to support him for the Afghanistan command," the admiral continued. "And I think it's worth noting his strong leadership and the foundation he has laid for future success there."