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Defense Chief Reiterates US Commitment to Afghan Mission

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that he fully supports President Barack Obama's decision to replace the commander of NATO and American forces in Afghanistan. Gates said the change does not mean a reduction in America's commitment to the war.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Secretary Gates said he deeply regrets the circumstances leading to the decision to replace Army General Stanley McChrystal.

Gates said the move does not signal a change in America's determination in Afghanistan. "No one, be they adversaries or friends or especially our troops, should misinterpret these personnel changes as a slackening of this government's commitment to the mission in Afghanistan. We remain committed to that mission and to the comprehensive civil-military strategy ordered by the president to achieve our goals there," he said.

Gates said President Obama's decision to replace McChrystal with Army General David Petraeus is the "best possible outcome to an awful situation."

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, says he was stunned and physically ill when he read McChrystal's remarks in a magazine article that quoted the general and his aides disparaging members of the Obama administration.

Mullen says there is no excuse for McChrystal's poor judgment. "We do not have the right, nor should we ever assume the prerogative to cast doubt upon the ability or mock the motives of our civilian leaders, elected or appointed. We are and must remain a neutral instrument of the state, accountable to and respectful of those leaders, no matter which [political] party holds sway or which person holds a given office," he said.

McChrystal was summoned to Washington and submitted his resignation following publication of a profile in Rolling Stone magazine.

McChrystal has called the interview a mistake that never should have happened.

The developments come as thousands of U.S. troops pour into southern Afghanistan as part of Mr. Obama's strategy to counter the Taliban and defeat al-Qaida.

That strategy has been widely criticized as June has become the deadliest month for international forces since the conflict began in 2001.

Military progress has been slower than expected in southern Afghanistan and there are continuing problems with corruption in the Afghan government.

Secretary Gates told reporters that the fight is more difficult than originally expected. "I do not believe we are bogged down. I believe we are making some progress. It is slower and harder than we anticipated," he said.

Admiral Mullen says the United States should know whether President Obama's military strategy for Afghanistan is working by the end of this year.

Mullen says he is leaving immediately for Afghanistan and Pakistan to tell allies and troops that there will be no change in America's mission to win the war.