USA — Gates, Mullen Comment on McChrystal Situation

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2010 — Judg­ment and civil­ian con­trol of the mil­i­tary were at the heart of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s deci­sion to accept Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrystal’s res­ig­na­tion as the NATO and U.S. com­man­der in Afghanistan, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said today.

Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both said they “ful­ly sup­port” Obama’s deci­sion and his nom­i­na­tion of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus to replace McChrys­tal.

“Like the pres­i­dent, I deeply regret the cir­cum­stances that made this deci­sion nec­es­sary,” Gates said dur­ing a Pen­ta­gon news con­fer­ence. “Gen­er­al McChrys­tal is one of the finest offi­cers and war­riors of his gen­er­a­tion, who has an extra­or­di­nary record in lead­ing the fight against some of this country’s most lethal ene­mies in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Gates and Mullen said McChrys­tal showed poor judg­ment with regard to the Rolling Stone pro­file in which he and mem­bers of his staff were crit­i­cal of admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials. The sit­u­a­tion “has made his con­tin­ued ser­vice in that post and as a mem­ber of the nation­al secu­ri­ty team unten­able,” Gates said. “The state­ments and atti­tudes report­ed in the news media are unac­cept­able under our form of gov­ern­ment, and are incon­sis­tent with the high stan­dards expect­ed of mil­i­tary lead­ers.”

The chair­man said he was stunned when he read the Rolling Stone pro­file.

“I can­not excuse his lack of judg­ment with respect to the Rolling Stone arti­cle or a com­mand cli­mate he evi­dent­ly per­mit­ted that was at best dis­re­spect­ful of civil­ian author­i­ty,” Mullen said. “We do not have that lux­u­ry, those of us in uni­form. 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.”

Mil­i­tary per­son­nel are and must remain a neu­tral instru­ment of the gov­ern­ment, he said. Ser­vice­mem­bers must be account­able to and respect­ful of civil­ian lead­ers “no mat­ter which par­ty holds sway or which per­son holds a giv­en office,” Mullen said.

Mil­i­tary lead­ers must step down when they lose the trust and con­fi­dence of civil­ian lead­ers, the chair­man said.

“The job we are called upon to do for the nation is too impor­tant, the lives we are sworn to pro­tect too pre­cious, to per­mit any doubt or uncer­tain­ty in that regard,” he said. “Gen­er­al McChrys­tal did the right thing by offer­ing to resign.”

Both men stressed that while the lead­er­ship is chang­ing, the strat­e­gy in Afghanistan is not. “Our troops and coali­tion part­ners are mak­ing extra­or­di­nary sac­ri­fices in the fight against al-Qai­da and its extrem­ist allies,” Gates said. “Our sin­gu­lar focus must be on suc­ceed­ing in this mis­sion with­out dis­trac­tion or divi­sion.”

Gates said that he was con­cerned that the effort in Afghanistan would lose time and focus if a new com­man­der came in with­out knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion.

One con­cern that the sec­re­tary had was to min­i­mize any impact a change would have on the con­duct of the war in Afghanistan. “I will tell you that … it was the pres­i­dent who first raised Petraeus’ name,” Gates said. “And it imme­di­ate­ly, to me, answered a lot of the con­cerns that I had.”

As the U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand chief, Petraeus has been part of the dis­cus­sions on the Afghan strat­e­gy all along. The gen­er­al was in charge of U.S. mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in Iraq dur­ing the troop surge there, and mil­i­tary and civil­ian efforts there have paid off.

“The key [in Afghanistan] was that we not lose our focus and be fur­ther dis­tract­ed for a peri­od of months,” Gates said. “And that’s why the selec­tion of Gen­er­al Petraeus was so impor­tant, in my view. Now the pres­i­dent has estab­lished the strat­e­gy, but from my per­spec­tive, Gen­er­al Petraeus will have the flex­i­bil­i­ty to look at the cam­paign plan and the approach and all man­ner of things when he gets to Afghanistan, assum­ing Sen­ate con­fir­ma­tion.”

The Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee has sched­uled Petraeus’ con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings for June 29, and com­mit­tee offi­cials promised an ear­ly vote on the mat­ter. NATO still must act to appoint the gen­er­al as the com­man­der of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force.

“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,” Gates said. “We remain com­mit­ted to that mis­sion and to the com­pre­hen­sive civ­il-mil­i­tary strat­e­gy ordered by the pres­i­dent to achieve our goals there.”

Both Gates and Mullen praised McChrystal’s ser­vice.

“Gen­er­al McChrys­tal and many of his imme­di­ate staff have served and pro­tect­ed this coun­try in com­bat with great courage, val­or, skill and devo­tion for many years,” Gates said.

Their out­stand­ing record of ser­vice remains intact for pos­ter­i­ty, and is deserv­ing of our last­ing recog­ni­tion and pro­found grat­i­tude.”

Mullen said McChrys­tal is a friend with whom he worked when the gen­er­al served as the direc­tor of the Joint Staff for a year.

“He’s a fine sol­dier and a good man,” Mullen said of McChrys­tal. “He has served his coun­try nobly and with great dis­tinc­tion for more than three decades, much of that last decade at war. He led men in places the rest of us could not fol­low, and he fought men in ways the rest of us could not fath­om.

“I was proud one year ago to sup­port him for the Afghanistan com­mand,” the admi­ral con­tin­ued. “And I think it’s worth not­ing his strong lead­er­ship and the foun­da­tion he has laid for future suc­cess there.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)