Monday, May 11, 2009

Gates replacing top U.S. commander in Afghanistan

The following is from CNN:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan -- Gen. David McKiernan -- will be replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Monday afternoon.

Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez has been tapped to serve as McChrystal's deputy.

McKiernan, who was asked to resign, will remain in his current position -- which as top U.S. commander means he is the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan -- until McChrystal and Rodriguez are confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Gates said.

"Today we have a new policy set by our new president," Gates said at a Pentagon news conference.

"We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador (in Afghanistan). I believe that new military leadership also is needed."

Gates stated that "nothing went wrong" under McKiernan, but that it was his "conviction ... that a fresh approach (and) a fresh look in the context of a new strategy was in our best interest." Video Watch Gates announce the change »

"We have in (McChrystal and Rodriguez) a rich experience level," added Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"These two officers will bring ... a focus that we really need in 2009."

Mullen noted that McKiernan, who has been in Afghanistan for 11 months, would have been scheduled to rotate out of Afghanistan after 18 to 24 months.

Gates' announcement came less than a week after President Obama met with the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan and pledged a more coordinated effort to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban.

In addition to sending 21,000 more troops and trainers to Afghanistan, Obama has committed a surge in U.S. civilian personnel and aid to boost domestic support for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is currently considered weak and unpopular.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said earlier Monday that Gates "asked for and got from the president his commitment" to support the switch from McKiernan to McChrystal.

"Let none of this detract from, nor cause us ever to forget Gen. McKiernan's long and distinguished career of military service. For decades, in peace and war, Dave McKiernan has led hundreds of thousands of men and women in uniform with conviction, integrity and courage," Gates said.

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