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White House summons McChrystal over magazine remarks

The leading military commander in Afghanistan today was summoned to the White House to personally explain published remarks to a US magazine in which he and senior aides mock and criticize top American officials -- including President Barack Obama.

world Updated: Jun 22, 2010 18:22 IST

The leading military commander in Afghanistan on Tuesday was summoned to the White House to personally explain published remarks to a US magazine in which he and senior aides mock and criticize top American officials -- including President Barack Obama.

Tensions between General Stanley McChrystal and the White House are on full display in the unflattering article in Rolling Stone.

"McChrystal has been directed to attend (Wednesday's) monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan in person" rather than appear in a secure satellite teleconference "to explain to the Pentagon and the commander in chief his quotes in the piece about his colleagues," a White House official told AFP.

In the magazine profile McChrystal jokes sarcastically about preparing to answer a question, referring to Vice President Joe Biden known as a skeptic of the commander's war strategy, and imagined ways of "dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner."

McChrystal also told the magazine that he felt "betrayed" by the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, in a White House debate over war strategy last year.

And an unnamed McChrystal adviser says in the article that the general came away unimpressed after meeting with Obama in the Oval Office a year ago.

"It was a 10-minute photo op," the general's adviser says.

"Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was... he didn't seem very engaged," the adviser added.

A McChrystal aide also called the national security adviser, Jim Jones, a retired general, a "clown" who is "stuck in 1985."

McChrystal issued a statement late on Monday apologizing for his remarks to the magazine. "I extend my sincerest apology for this profile," McChrystal said in a statement issued hours after the article entitled "The Runaway General" was released on Monday.

"It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened." McChrystal, a former special operations chief, usually speaks cautiously in public and has enjoyed mostly sympathetic US media coverage since he took over the NATO-led force last year.

But the Rolling Stone article appeared to catch him and his staff in unguarded moments. In the article McChrystal laughed when asked about the vice president.

"Are you asking about Vice President Biden?" McChrystal says with a laugh. "Who's that?" the article quotes him as saying.

"Biden?" suggests a top adviser. "Did you say: Bite Me?"

Referring to a leaked internal memo from Eikenberry that questioned McChrystal's request for more troops, the commander suggested the ambassador had tried to protect himself for history's sake.

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

Eikenberry, himself a former commander in Afghanistan, had written to the White House saying Afghan President Hamid Karzai was an unreliable partner and that a surge of troops could draw the United States into a open-ended quagmire.

The article is likely to exacerbate tensions between the US command in Afghanistan and the White House.

McChrystal already received a dressing down from Obama after giving a speech last summer in which he appeared to criticize Biden's argument in favor of fewer troops in Afghanistan.

As an Afghanistan strategy review was beginning, McChrystal had requested tens of thousands of reinforcements and although Obama in the end granted most of what he had asked for, the strategy review was a difficult time, the general told the magazine. "I found that time painful," McChrystal says. "I was selling an unsellable position."

The profile argued that McChrystal has pushed through his vision of how to fight the war, sidelining White House and State Department heavyweights along the way.

His aides are portrayed as intensely loyal to McChrystal while dismissive of the White House and those who question their commander's approach.

One unnamed senior military official speculates that yet another surge of US forces could be requested "if we see success here."

But his own troops voice doubts about the war and new rules limiting the use of force at a meeting with McChrystal at a combat outpost near Kandahar city, according to the magazine.

One sergeant tells him: "Sir, some of the guys here, sir, think we're losing, sir." McChrystal also complains about a dinner with an unnamed French minister during a visit to France in April.

In a hotel room in Paris getting ready for a dinner with the French official, McChrystal says: "How'd I get screwed into going to this dinner?"

He also derides the hard-charging top US envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke. "Oh, not another email from Holbrooke," McChrystal says, looking at his messages on a mobile phone. "I don't even want to open it."

First Published: Jun 22, 2010 18:08 IST