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McChrystal Comments Mirror 'Varying Attitudes About Best Approach in Afghanistan'


An Obama administration official says the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan has been summoned to Washington to explain his controversial comments about President Barack Obama and members of his administration in a recent interview. Also, Britain's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who has criticized elements of the U.S. war strategy, has resigned and the new government of Prime Minister David Cameron is reviewing whether to fill the job.

General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has been summoned to Washington by the White House. The move comes after McChrystal apologized on Monday for comments he and his staff made to the popular U.S.-based magazine Rolling Stone.

In the magazine's latest issue, McChrystal and his staff were critical of U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration.

One unnamed McChrystal advisor described a meeting between the general and Mr. Obama at the Oval office as a "ten-minute photo op". One aide also made jokes about Vice President Joe Biden. And McChrystal himself told Rolling Stone that he had felt "betrayed" by U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry in a debate over war strategy.

Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, says the interview was a major gaffe.

"It is not a good thing for senior officers to be making derogatory remarks about their commanders, their political superiors, in any kind of setting, certainly not in a formal setting and certainly not when the news media are present," Plesch said.

NATO has released a statement which says the Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has full confidence in General McChrystal and his strategy in Afghanistan. The statement describes the Rolling Stone article as "unfortunate", but adds - "it is just an article."

Meanwhile, Britain's special envoy to Afghanistan, Sherard Cowper-Coles, has stepped down. A spokesperson for the British high commission in Islamabad says the envoy has taken "extended leave".

Gareth Price from the London-based research group Chatham House says it is so far unclear if Cowper-Coles made the decision to leave himself.

"It is clear that he was keener than the official policy on engaging and negotiating with the Taliban, so that could be connected with it or potentially the new government wanting someone who maybe wasn't as closely linked with the previous government here in the U.K," Price said.

Cowper-Coles had recently clashed with senior U.S. and NATO officials over strategy in Afghanistan. He argued that military-driven tactics were failing and negotiations with the Taliban should instead be prioritized.

Price says the incident with General McChrystal and the departure of Cowper-Coles reflect varying attitudes about the best approach in Afghanistan. He says differences of opinion are reaching the boiling point because the situation in Afghanistan is not looking good.

"You've suddenly seen that the implementation isn't going as smoothly," Price said. "The progress in terms of the Afghan government doing its side of the bargain and improving its level of governance isn't happening as smoothly as it should, that the build-up of the Afghan army is again slower than it should. I suppose people's tempers are getting a little bit frayed, and hopefully we won't see more of this but there seems every chance that we might."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that military leaders, including McChrystal, are confident that U.S. forces are making progress against insurgents in Afghanistan.

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