Published: Jun 24, 2010 11:45 AM EDT
Updated: Jun 24, 2010 8:46 AM EDT

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 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.

Petraeus, who attended a formal Afghanistan war meeting at the

White House on Wednesday, has had overarching responsibility for

the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq as head of Central Command.

He was to vacate the Central Command post after his expected

confirmation, giving Obama another key opening to fill. The

Afghanistan job is actually a step down from his current post but

one that filled Obama's pre-eminent need.

Petraeus is the nation's best-known military man, having risen

to prominence as the commander who turned around the Iraq war in

2007, applying a counterinsurgency strategy that has been adapted

for Afghanistan.

He has a reputation for rigorous discipline. He keeps a

punishing pace - spending more than 300 days on the road last year.

He briefly collapsed during Senate testimony last week, apparently

from dehydration. It was a rare glimpse of weakness for a man known

as among the military's most driven.

In the hearing last week, Petraeus told Congress he would

recommend delaying Obama's prescribed pullout of U.S. forces from

Afghanistan beginning in July 2011. He said security and political

conditions in Afghanistan must be ready to handle a U.S. drawdown.

Waheed Omar, spokesman for Karzai, said Petraeus "will also be

a trusted partner." Karzai had been a lonely voice in speaking out

in support of McChrystal. But Omar said of Petraeus: "He is the

most informed person and the most obvious choice for this job" now

that McChrystal is out.

The day unfolded with a secretive series of meetings.

McChrystal arrived in Washington off the long flight from Kabul

in the early morning and went first to the Pentagon to see top

brass. Then came his half-hour alone with the president. Obama

huddled afterward with Biden, Gates, Mullen and just a few others

to plot the next step, and the group settled on Petraeus because he

represents the "greatest continuity in operational understanding"

and knows Afghanistan, said the senior administration official.

Obama then sat down with Petraeus to offer him the job.

Gates' advice on the matter wasn't disclosed. Pentagon press

secretary Geoff Morrell said that Gates had talked extensively with

Obama, including a 30-minute one-on-one meeting late Tuesday. But

Morrell declined to say whether Gates suggested McChrystal should

be fired.

In the magazine article, McChrystal called the period last fall

when the president was deciding whether to approve more troops

"painful" and said the president appeared ready to hand him an

"unsellable" position. McChrystal also said he was "betrayed"

by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, the man the White House chose to be

his diplomatic partner in Afghanistan.

He accused Eikenberry of raising doubts about Karzai only to

give himself cover in case the U.S. effort failed. And he was

quoted mocking Biden.

If not insubordination, the remarks - as well as even sharper

commentary about Obama and his White House from several in

McChrystal's inner circle - were at the least an extraordinary

challenge from a military leader.

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services

Committee, said he expected to hold a hearing by Tuesday on

Petraeus' confirmation.