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McChrystal sacked, replaced by Petraeus

| June 24, 2010 9:00 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama sacked his loose-lipped Afghanistan commander Wednesday, a seismic shift for the military order in wartime, and chose the familiar, admired - and tightly disciplined - Gen. David Petraeus to replace him. Petraeus, architect of the Iraq war turnaround, was once again to take hands-on leadership of a troubled war effort.

Obama said bluntly that Gen. Stanley McChrystal's scornful remarks about administration officials in interviews for a Rolling Stone magazine article represent conduct that "undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system."

He fired the commander after summoning him from Afghanistan for a face to face meeting in the Oval Office and named Petraeus, the Central Command chief who was McChrystal's direct boss, to step in.

By pairing those announcements, Obama sought to move on from the firestorm that was renewing debate over his revamped Afghanistan policy. It was meant to assure Afghans, U.S. allies and a restive American electorate that a firm hand is running the war.

Expressing praise for McChrystal yet certainty he had to go, Obama said he did not make the decision over any disagreement in policy or "out of any sense of personal insult." Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the Rose Garden, he said: "War is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general, or a president."

He urged the Senate to confirm Petraeus swiftly and emphasized the Afghanistan strategy he announced in December was not shifting with McChrystal's departure.

"This is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy," Obama said. The president delivered the same message in a phone call to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the White House said, and Karzai told Obama he would work toward a smooth transition.

As Obama was speaking in the Rose Garden, McChrystal released a statement saying that he resigned out of "a desire to see the mission succeed" and expressing support for the war strategy.

With lawmakers of both parties praising the choice of Petraeus, the White House is confident he will be confirmed before Congress adjourns at the end of next week.

Obama hit several grace notes about McChrystal and his service after their meeting, saying he made the decision to sack him "with considerable regret." And yet, he said the job in Afghanistan cannot be done now under McChrystal's leadership, asserting that the critical remarks from the general and his inner circle in Rolling Stone displayed conduct that doesn't live up to the standards for a command-level officer.

"I welcome debate among my team, but I won't tolerate division," Obama said. He had delivered that same message - that there must be no more backbiting - to his full war cabinet in a Situation Room session, said a senior administration official.

The announcement came as June became the deadliest month for the U.S.-dominated international coalition in Afghanistan. NATO announced eight more international troop deaths Wednesday for a total of 76 this month, one more than in the deadliest month previously, in July 2009. Forty-six of those killed this month were Americans. The U.S. has 90,800 troops in Afghanistan.

Obama seemed to suggest that McChrystal's military career is over, saying the nation should be grateful "for his remarkable career in uniform" as if that has drawn to a close. McChrystal left the White House after the meeting and returned to his military quarters at Washington's Fort McNair.

SARGODHA, Pakistan (AP) - Police deployed extra patrols and barriers around a Pakistani court today ahead of an expected verdict in the trial of five Americans accused of plotting terrorist attacks.

The five young Muslims from the Washington, D.C., area, were arrested in Pakistan in December after their families reported them missing. The case is one of several involving alleged "homegrown" American militants linked to Pakistan, but the only one being tried in a Pakistani court.

Prosecutors have said the expect a guilty verdict, but the men's lawyers insist they are innocent.

On Thursday morning, the road in front of the court building in the Punjab province town of Sargodha was blocked off, while police vehicles swarmed the scene. The trial is off limits to journalists and observers and is being heard by a single judge in a special anti-terrorism court.

U.S. officials have said little about the trial. Washington is trying to counter anti-American sentiment in Pakistan's government, security forces and media, but is also pressing Islamabad to crack down hard on militancy.

The men have been identified as Ramy Zamzam of Egyptian descent, Waqar Khan and Umar Farooq of Pakistani descent, and Aman Hassan Yemer and Ahmed Minni of Ethiopian descent. One allegedly left behind a farewell video in the United States showing scenes of war and casualties and saying Muslims must be defended.

Prosecutors say they have presented evidence such as e-mail records and witness statements backing up their contention the men were plotting terror attacks in Pakistan and conspired to wage war against nations allied with it, a reference to Afghanistan, where the men were alleged to have been traveling.

• In other news, Pakistan's prime minister promised to go ahead with a plan to import natural gas from Iran, even if the U.S. levies additional sanctions against the Mideast country.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's comments Tuesday came two days after the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, cautioned Pakistan not to "overcommit" itself to the deal because it could run afoul of new sanctions against Iran being finalized by Congress.

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