WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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 a day after General Stanley McChrystal, 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 controversy comes at an inopportune time for Obama, who already is dealing with huge BP Plc oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, trying to get financial industry reform legislation through Congress and hoping to prevent Republicans from taking back control of Congress in November elections.
An Obama administration official said McChrystal had been directed to appear in person at Wednesday’s Afghanistan meeting at the White House “to explain to the Pentagon and the commander-in-chief his quotes in the piece about his colleagues.”
The military officials said McChrystal would be returning from Kabul on Wednesday, but did not give any more details.
The Rolling Stone article, to be published on Friday, also quoted an aide describing McChrystal’s “disappointment” with his initial one-on-one meeting with Obama last year.
“I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgement and should never have happened,” McChrystal said in a statement on Monday.
The Rolling Stone article, which quoted several McChrystal aides anonymously, portrays a split between the U.S. military and Obama’s advisers at an extremely sensitive moment for the Pentagon, which is fending off criticism of its strategy to turn around the nearly nine-year-old Afghan war.
It quotes a member of 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 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.”
McChrystal was quoted as saying he felt “betrayed” by the leak of a classified cable from U.S. 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.
McChrystal took command of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in June 2009 after his predecessor General David McKiernan was removed for what most experts interpreted as a sign Washington was losing patience with conventional tactics that failed to quell mounting violence.
U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who fired McKiernan, said on Sunday that McChrystal and other military leaders are confident that the campaign against Taliban insurgents, particularly in southern Afghanistan, is moving in the right direction.
Gates also said on Sunday it was too early to be able to say how many U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan and how quickly they would leave when a planned drawdown began in July 2011.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said over the weekend that the July 2011 drawdown date was “firm,” adding that Washington was seeing signs that the Afghan government was making headway on security.
Reporting by Will Dunham and Jeff Mason, editing by Vicki Allen