Daily brief: McChrystal out, Petraeus in

Event notice: "Captive." Join the New America Foundation today at 12:15pm to hear author Jere Van Dyk’s account of being kidnapped by the Taliban, and journalist Anand Gopal’s analysis of militancy in Pakistan’s tribal regions — details and RSVP here (NAF). Seismic shakeup Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal was relieved of his ...

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Event notice: "Captive." Join the New America Foundation today at 12:15pm to hear author Jere Van Dyk's account of being kidnapped by the Taliban, and journalist Anand Gopal's analysis of militancy in Pakistan's tribal regions -- details and RSVP here (NAF).

Seismic shakeup

Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal was relieved of his post yesterday less than 40 hours after a Rolling Stone profile reported his critical comments about senior Obama administration officials (BBC, Pajhwok, AJE, Guardian, The News, Independent, Times, Tel, FT, Atlantic). Yesterday afternoon in the Rose Garden, Barack Obama announced that he had accepted Gen. McChrystal's resignation with "considerable regret," and appointed CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, the architect of the 'surge' in Iraq, to succeed Gen. McChrystal, emphasizing, "This is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy" (White House, McClatchy, NYT, LAT, CNN, Pajhwok). Obama said that the conduct described in the article "undermines civilian control of the military" and "erodes" the trust necessary for "our team to work together" in Afghanistan. One analysis attributes Gen. McChrystal's downfall to his "lack of political skills" (Wash Post).

Event notice: "Captive." Join the New America Foundation today at 12:15pm to hear author Jere Van Dyk’s account of being kidnapped by the Taliban, and journalist Anand Gopal’s analysis of militancy in Pakistan’s tribal regions — details and RSVP here (NAF).

Seismic shakeup

Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal was relieved of his post yesterday less than 40 hours after a Rolling Stone profile reported his critical comments about senior Obama administration officials (BBC, Pajhwok, AJE, Guardian, The News, Independent, Times, Tel, FT, Atlantic). Yesterday afternoon in the Rose Garden, Barack Obama announced that he had accepted Gen. McChrystal’s resignation with "considerable regret," and appointed CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, the architect of the ‘surge’ in Iraq, to succeed Gen. McChrystal, emphasizing, "This is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy" (White House, McClatchy, NYT, LAT, CNN, Pajhwok). Obama said that the conduct described in the article "undermines civilian control of the military" and "erodes" the trust necessary for "our team to work together" in Afghanistan. One analysis attributes Gen. McChrystal’s downfall to his "lack of political skills" (Wash Post).

Obama made the "uncharacteristically swift" decision to relieve Gen. McChrystal after reportedly consulting with, among others, Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who advocated keeping Gen. McChrystal in command (WSJ, Wash Post, NYT, Politico). In addition to Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen, National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones, and chief of staff Rahm Emanuel were influential in the decision to fire Gen. McChrystal and select Gen. Petraeus to succeed him (CNN, LAT, Wash Post). Gen. Petraeus, who was in town for the White House’s monthly Afghanistan-Pakistan meeting, met with Obama for 40 minutes before the announcement was made and is said to be accepting the post at "great personal sacrifice" (Wash Post). "Tampa to Kabul," a senior official commented.

Reports tend to agree that the appointment of Gen. Petraeus will ensure a smooth transition and continuity in command and policy, as the general has strong relationships with Pakistan’s leadership and a deep understanding of the strategy in Afghanistan, which he helped craft (WSJ, Wash Post, FT). However, outlets are quick to remind that Gen. McChrystal’s exit comes at a critical time in the Afghan war, which his successor once called "the tougher fight" and as June becomes the deadliest month for NATO yet (Wash Post, WSJ, NYT, AP). Gen. Petraeus is expected to be confirmed by the Senate quickly, and in the interim, the top British commander in Afghanistan Lt. Gen. Sir Nick Parker is at the helm (Times, Wash Post, McClatchy). It’s unclear who will succeed Gen. Petraeus as the head of CENTCOM.

The reactions
: Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who had lobbied to keep Gen. McChrystal in command, said through a spokesman that the Afghan government is encouraged by the selection of Gen. Petraeus (Wash Post, AP, BBC). A Taliban spokesman supported the sacking, saying Gen. McChrystal should have resigned because his strategy had "clearly failed," while another remarked, "We don’t care whether it’s McChrystal or Petraeus, we’ll be fighting the invading forces until they leave" (AP, AFP). NATO leaders and both parties on Capitol Hill offered support for Obama’s decision (Reuters, FT, Wash Post, CNN, FT). Troops in Afghanistan have mixed reactions (Wash Post, FT). Gen. McChrystal’s brief statement is available here (AP). 

In other Afghanistan news

The U.S. Army has reversed its decision to punish three officers who an earlier inquiry said were guilty of "dereliction of duty" for their roles in the 2008 battle at Wanat, one of the deadliest days for U.S. forces in Afghanistan (NYT, AP, DoD, ABC). The army general who investigated the case "withdrew, canceled, and annulled" the administrative reprimands after the officers appealed and presented their cases.

Seven Afghan construction workers were killed yesterday in a roadside bombing in central Uruzgan province, and NATO operations in and around Kandahar are ongoing (AP, Pajhwok).

Pakistani justice

The five young Americans who were arrested last fall in Pakistan on suspicion of involvement in terrorism were found guilty of several charges and sentenced to five and ten year terms in prison, to be served concurrently, earlier today (Dawn, AFP, ET, AP, BBC). During their closed trial, the five maintained they were in Pakistan for charity work, though the prosecution alleged that emails and witness statements proved they had intended to plot attacks in Pakistan; both the defense and the prosecution are expected to appeal.

The BBC writes that a Pakistani intelligence report shows that militants are openly raising funds in Punjab, where at least 17 banned groups are operating (BBC). Bonus read: AfPak Behind the Lines with Hassan Abbas on militancy in Punjab (FP).

Suspected Taliban fighters have shot and killed the chief of the local chapter of Jamaat-e-Islami in Darra Adam Khel, and kidnapped his son (ET). And in Karachi, at least eight political activists from different factions have been killed in the last day (Daily Times). Special representative to the region Amb. Richard Holbrooke is back in Islamabad after meetings in Kabul, and has met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (Dawn).

And Gary Faulkner, the Osama bin Laden hunter who recently returned to the U.S., plans to continue his mission (ABC).

Local strongmen

Earlier this week, Afghanistan’s national bodybuilding team took first place at the seventh South Asian Men’s Bodybuilding Championship in Katmandu (Pajhwok). Pakistan placed second and India came in third. Bonus click: an FP slideshow of Afghanistan’s strongmen (FP).

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